A Master's degree prepares nurses for advanced practice roles, including the management and delivery of primary health care, case management, education and administration (Hegyvary, 1992). Growing specialization by physicians, the health system's increasing demand for front-line primary care, and the accelerating drive toward managed care, prevention, and cost-efficiency are spurring a global need for nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, nurse educators, and other nurses with advanced practice skills. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) (1997) has predicted an under-supply of Master's and Doctorally prepared nurses for advanced practice, teaching, and research. The average nurse is currently forty plus years old, a fact that is predicted to produce serious nursing shortages as retirements of large cohorts occur. Indeed, the federal Division of Nursing has recommended that at least two-thirds of the basic nurse workforce have at least baccalaureate or higher degrees in nursing by the year 2010 (National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice, 1996). By the year 2000, the need for Master's and Doctorally prepared nurses for advanced clinical specialties, teaching, and research will be nearly triple the supply. That year, some 140,300 full-time-equivalent RNs with Master's and Doctoral degrees will be in the workforce, compared to the anticipated need for 392,000 (AACN, 1997). The literature shows a need for more studies focused on the experience of successful completion of Master's theses in nursing and in other disciplines. The Master's thesis is designed to serve as a "practice exercise" for a doctoral dissertation. The essential requirement of a Master's thesis is that it literally demonstrate mastery in the student's sub-field.. James (1998) explained that the most common terms used to evaluate a thesis or dissertation were "originality, logical coherence, critical evaluation, awareness of alternatives, breadth of perspective and balanced synthesis" (p. 95). Many graduate students are adequately trained in basic research skills, but many do not fully understand how to do thesis tasks such as reading analytically and synthetically or writing discursively. They may begin their thesis with enthusiasm, unaware that they are only rudimentarily equipped with the "basic" skills of critical reading, writing, and renumeration. When students work on a thesis with undeveloped "basic" skills they are likely to encounter one problem after another. Eventually, an alarming number of students erroneously conclude they are not capable of completing a thesis and drop out. In truth, thesis "basics" are anything but basic. Reading is not simply identifying and interpreting words and sentences but analyzing, criticizing, and deriving implications from the literature. Writing is not just composing well-formed paragraphs but clarifying and constructing concepts and synthesizing themes that justify the study. And thinking is more than remembering and relating ideas, it is abstracting patterns and generating original insights. The thesis is a learning task to painstakedly teach students the highest scholarly skills, (Levine, 1999). The demands of thesis writing seem to introduce a significant amount of pressure, stress, and impacts on Master's students' self-image, motivation, and ability to persevere. Mental health stability is jeopardized unless supportive and self-initiated coping behaviors are strong. An examination of the findings from various studies devoted to the mental health implications of thesis writing can help nurses face this challenge forearmed with pertinent theory and strategies for coping with the thesis writing process.
Framing the Problem
A diverse array of personal, social, environmental, systematic and academic factors have been identified as...