Nurses and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) education – part 2

In the previous edition of EUT we explained why nurses are motivated to pursue PhD education. We will now discuss the striking variations of the requirements for doctoral education between European countries and even between universities in one country. All universities aim at offering high-quality research and knowledge. Due to many differences in regulations and standards between universities, it seems legitimate to wonder whether the title of PhD has the same value between national universities in a country and across Europe.

European University Association
The European University Association (EUA) has formulated 10 recommendations for doctoral education in Europe: “Salzburg principles and recommendations”: ii%20recommendations%202010.pdf

The EUA is aware of the diversity between universities and European countries but considers it a “strength which has to be underpinned by quality and sound practice”. The EUA refers to the primordial role of supervision and assessments in one of its recommendations.

The grade of the main supervisor is not necessarily a professor, as is the case in e.g. the Netherlands. In Denmark, the supervisor must be “employed in the
health sector and on the level of at least an associate professor” (Aarhus University). In the UK, the nurse can be supervised by a subject specialist and a
methods specialist.

Differences across Europe
There are many differences across Europe with regard to PhD training and the rules for supervisor and doctoral dissertation. The EUA council for doctoral education has tried to highlight the differences across Europe by sending a survey (Eurodoc survey 2018) to European doctoral candidates. The results of the survey have not yet been completely analysed. From the raw data it is clear that there is a wide diversity across Europe concerning e.g. the duration of the doctoral training, which institutions are entitled to award doctoral degrees, the status and benefits of doctoral candidates, and transferable skills and qualifications required for doctoral supervision. The nurse, like all other PhD students, has to face all these differences, however, a PhD nurse candidate also has to overcome obstacles. In some countries, such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, obstacles have already been removed but in some European countries, this is not the case yet.

Situation in France
The situation in France can be called exemplary: research by nurses and PhD are receiving great interest since 2009, the year the training of nurses was legally considered as a graduate study. However, the difficulties for French nurses to start and, maybe, finish a PhD training are comparable to climbing the Mont Blanc mountain! First, the nurse has to develop a project plan and submit it to the hospital. Then, very often the nurse needs to find her own financial funds to allow the conduction of the PhD (an almost impossible mission). And of course the nurse must be affiliated to a university (this does not differ from other European countries). Many French nurses who are motivated to follow a PhD feel “forced” to move to Switzerland, Belgium or Canada because until recently a PhD was not available for them in France. Since 2018, some French university hospitals are becoming aware of the necessity and advantages of doctoral nurses. It offers hope to French nurses.

Something to aim for The title nurses acquire once they obtain their PhD is the same across Europe: Doctor (Dr.). However, a nurse from the UK explains the difficulties of using the title Doctor as a nurse nicely: “This is a title that is not without controversy and varying practice. Some people use the title, others do not. I personally use it in practice and when I present. I believe it should be used, as it gives nurses something to aim for. In practice I find that some medical doctors do not like it, they probably feel threatened”. This issue is likely not to be specific to the UK. But since doctoral nurses are not less educated than a physician who has achieved a PhD, they deserve respect and acceptation from their medical colleagues.

“…there is a wide diversity across
Europe concerning e.g. the duration
of the doctoral training, which
institutions are entitled to award
doctoral degrees, the status and
benefits of doctoral candidates, and
transferable skills and qualifications
required for doctoral supervision.”

No financial advantage
There is one thing similar all over Europe with regard to doctoral nurses: they do not have any financial advantages (higher salary) because of their title. Most of the PhD subjects are about educational sciences, philosophy, ethics, sociology, management, clinical research (about work situations).

In conclusion, there are still many diversities across Europe and even among national universities in PhD education. Despite the efforts of the EUA to make recommendations and, maybe in future, guidelines, it seems that uniformity in doctoral education is still far away. We can also point out that PhD education requires a lot of perseverance and we can only hope that doctoral nurses will soon be recognised for it in many European countries.


Corinne Tillier, Nurse Practitioner Uro-oncology, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Dept. of Urology, Amsterdam (NL),