We Will Never Meaningfully Transform Research-focused Doctoral Education in Nursing Without Addressing Who Has Power Over Its Design and Implementation

A light gray cobblestone street. Between the seams of the cobblestones, green weeds and grass have sprouted, forming a path from the center top of the photograph to the bottom left-hand corner, where the weeds are flourshing.
“Rhizomatic learning — for Dave Cormier” by christing-O- is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Design justice invites us to consider how design decisions regarding research-focused doctoral education programs in nursing reproduce and/or challenge the matrix of domination, and how such decisions are impacted at the institutional level by factors such as strategic agendas, funding priorities, leadership hierarchies, institutional policies and practices.

Overall, this document misses an opportunity to liberalize our understanding of knowledge production and nursing research.

The emphasis on science as it is constructed precludes considerations of philosophy.

Nursing’s scholarship and doctoral training requires critical reflexivity about power: who is wielding it, how, and what those impacts are on nursing, the nursing profession, and those we work with and for.

One of the hazards of even constructing a response like this is validating the power of an organization like AACN to lead transformation in nursing. It is not evident that AACN — or indeed any other current professional organization within nursing or from outside — is appropriate to lead for a future of nursing research that does anything other than consolidate power and reinforce the status quo.

When considering stewardship of the discipline and its primacy, we must also consider the degree to which the peer-reviewed literature and research practices in U.S.-based nursing education to date have reflected a fairly homogenous and — at times — oppressive and exclusionary set of perspectives, grounded in whiteness, and particularly white feminism (Bell, 2020a; Bell, 2020b).

While postdoctoral fellowships allow for extended immersion in research-focused activities, they are not realistic or accessible for all prospective PhD-prepared nurses.

Overall, the task force needs to deeply reflect on the assumptions, theories, values, and philosophy that undergird the proposed “Research-Focused Doctoral Program in Nursing: Pathways to Excellence.” The perspectives included are quite narrow and rely on an outdated and exclusionary approach to research doctoral education.

We question whether “stewardship portfolios” documenting leadership in nursing’s professional organizations are necessary or good.

We object to this draft guidance’s recommendations to exclude multidisciplinary scholars (referred to here in the document as “non-nurses”) from eligibility to pursue nursing PhD study.

After all, how did we get here? Did nurses not pursue doctoral studies in disciplines such as education, social sciences, and anthropology, prior to widespread accessibility to the research-focused doctoral degree in nursing? Had those disciplines prevented nurses that did not possess their degrees or licenses from entering those programs, would the concept of a PhD in nursing even exist as it does today? We should be widening the pathway, not narrowing it.

Current models of PhD apprenticeship and training in the United States were originally developed by elite private universities and divinity schools for landed white male academics with privilege and financial security (Thurgood, Golliday & Hill, 2006).

“…we urge the AACN to resist calls to further quantization, metricization and ‘badge-ification’ of scholarship”

Recent research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst indicates that training a single A.I. algorithm such as a large model using natural language processing can have climate impacts equivalent to the carbon footprint of 125 round-trip flights between New York and Beijing (Strubell, Ganesh & McCallum, 2019).

“climate change — indeed, the climate emergency urgently facing our planet — is not mentioned even once in this document”

Failure to interrogate and challenge assumptions underlying the primacy of big data, A.I., and technosolutionism in this document reflects a certain epistemic violence not unique to this body, in fact, it is embedded throughout research agendas for nursing and other health researchers.




Scholar, activist, first nurse inventor to serve as an AAAS Invention Ambassador. Their work has been featured in Forbes, Science, Scientific American & NPR.

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Rachel K. Walker, PhD RN FAAN

Rachel K. Walker, PhD RN FAAN

Scholar, activist, first nurse inventor to serve as an AAAS Invention Ambassador. Their work has been featured in Forbes, Science, Scientific American & NPR.

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