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RN interested in clinical psych PhD


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Hello, hello!

I am a recently-licensed registered nurse who has always been interested in clinical psychology. In undergrad, I majored in neuroscience and psychology (double major) with a minor in biology. I was also a sexual violence survivor support counselor while in undergrad (before COVID obliterated the role). I also conducted neuroscience research.

My plan at the time was to apply to PhD programs in clinical psychology, but when COVID hit, my psychology GRE was immediately cancelled, and the colleges I planned to apply to either still required the psych GRE or greatly limited their applications for most if not all PhD programs. So, I went into nursing instead and completed a one year accelerated nursing diploma program, which I recently completed. I'll be honest, money was a big factor. I figured that I could earn some cash for a couple years and build some support before applying while also waiting for clinical psych PhD programs to adapt to our new reality of COVID.

I plan to work a couple of years in psych as a registered nurse before applying. My question is - would this make me a good candidate, or would it worsen my chances? Would the programs automatically deny me since I am already a nurse, or could I make a good argument as to why I want to pursue clinical psychology and how I am a good candidate because of my diverse background? Any recommendations? I have looked into the psych mental health nurse practitioner role, but after my clinical rotations from nursing school, I just know that the clinical psychologist role is one that I would like more.

Finally, to those who have completed the degree, or are currently in the midst of it, do you think it would be possible at all to continue working as a nurse during school? Even if it's just part-time? I worked all throughout undergrad on the night shift (keep in mind COVID was happening, so all my classes transitioned online, making it easier to work). I also worked part-time throughout my nursing program. Both jobs while in school absolutely killed me, but I'm young, and the money helped to keep my loans to almost non-existent!

Any recommendations, answers, support would be highly appreciated. Please keep it nice!

Thank you for any and all responses. I respect you guys immensely!

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Hello there :)

I completely empathize with the whole situation around the pandemic and having plans delayed/altered. That happened to me as well. I'm sorry it didn't work out as you hoped.

You seem to have an interesting background, but how that would be viewed is quite relative - as in, it really depends on the POI and admission committee. Some might value and appreciate your real-world experience, while to others it might seem confused why you want to switch careers so soon or think you are unfocused. In my program, I've never heard of someone coming in from a nursing background, although I think there was a case or two of social workers switching careers, but that is more common. I don't want to be a downer, there are probably some out there, I just haven't heard of many :) 

With that being said, what will matter more is your research experience and/or potential. Your hands-on skills are a bonus, but for a decent PhD (or highly competitive PsyD) program, you will need a good research CV. It sounds like you have some experience during undergrad, but you might be going up against people who have multiple years of full-time experience and/or a lot of posters and some publications. Strength of references is also important. I assume you're probably going for one of those programs since you mentioned the financial aspect. A decent PhD/very good PsyD will come with a stipend and tuition remission. It's usually small, but livable in most places. 

Regarding your question about working during your degree, I don't really recommend it. Most programs explicitly prohibit you from working more than 10 or so hours outside the program, and the rest actively discouraged it (unless it's a diploma mill program that doesn't care). From my own experience, the first years are challenging and full of things to do. Sometimes it's hard to keep one's head above water even without a job, just trying to keep up with program requirements and other personal commitments. You also mentioned having a hard time doing both school and jobs previously, and clinical psych would just amplify that. 

I would look around at the stipends offered by the program you are interested in, cost of living, and make a decision whether that would be something doable for you without a job. Minimal loans might also be a an option, since clinical psych pays ok after you graduate (not a good idea to go overboard though). If you think you want to go this route, the next step is to make your application as attractive as possible. If there is any way to get involved in more research at your job right now, that would be ideal. Volunteering in a lab is also an option - and can come with some new academic connections. Are there any research opportunities you could take advantage now, while still working?

Let me know if you have more questions, happy to share from my experience :)



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