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PhD Program of Study


  • Preliminary examination
  • Dissertation topic approval
  • Successful performance of the Apprenticeship Practicum
  • Comprehensive examination and overview
  • Competitive research funding application submitted
  • Dissemination of scholarly work
  • Admission to candidacy for the PhD degree
  • Dissertation defense

Program of Study

The post-master's full-time student (MSN to PhD) may complete the program in approximately two and a half years beyond the master's degree (48 credits minimum), depending upon the program of study in the prior masters degree, and the nature and complexity of research for the dissertation. The part-time student may complete the program in three to four years. Twenty-four credits are granted from the prior master's program. 

The BSN to PhD program requires a minimum of 72 credits. Students admitted to the BSN to PhD track are expected to enroll full-time, and the program can be completed in three years, depending on the complexity of research for dissertation. Students in the BSN to PhD program are also encouraged to consider obtaining a simultaneous master’s degree such as the Clinical Nurse Leader.

  • The statute of limitations for completion of the MSN to PhD track is eight consecutive calendar years from the first term of registration for credits that are in the required curriculum plan for the doctoral degree.
  • The statute of limitations for completion of the BSN to PhD track is 10 consecutive calendar years from the first term of registration for credits that are in the required curriculum plan for the doctoral degree.

See Policy 208 for more information.

For courses transferred in, evaluation of the content of courses taken elsewhere must be approved by the Director of the PhD Program to determine comparability with the coursework at the University of Pittsburgh. Students entering the MSN to PhD program will work with their academic advisor to conduct a gap analysis to review prior research-related coursework to determine if additional research core coursework is needed beyond that specified in the MSN to PhD curriculum plan. 

The doctoral faculty strongly recommends that all PhD students develop knowledge of and experience with word processing, database management, and computerized literature searches before applying to the doctoral program.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination is taken after completing the following required courses. 

For BSN to PHD

  • NUR 3285
  • NUR 3286
  • NUR 3287
  • NUR 3071

For MSN to PHD Students

  • NUR 3285
  • NUR 3286
  • NUR 3071

By following the established curriculum plan, all full-time students should sit for their Preliminary Examination in their third term of study. The preliminary examination is designed to assess the student's breadth of knowledge of the discipline of nursing and potential ability to apply research methods independently. Remediation work may be required if deficiencies are identified that may impede the student's success in program completion. 

See Policy 230 for more information.

Focal Areas of Research

The focal areas of research are:

  • Behavioral management of chronic disorders including adherence, self-management, technology, and prevention activities
  • Technology for nurses and patients to improve care
  • Cancer survivorship
  • Genomic applications in nursing care focusing on molecular genetics and psychosocial implications
  • Primary prevention in chronic disease
  • Consumer informatics, including education, care management, usability, and health literacy

Personalized Scientific Inquiry

The University of Pittsburgh values personalization of students’ educational experiences. To that end, the PhD program allows students to develop a personalized approach to choosing additional coursework congruent with knowledge and skill development in their chosen areas of focal research concentration. 

Students are encouraged to take Personalized Scientific Inquiry (PSI) courses to develop an understanding of essential knowledge to a focused area of study in nursing.

  • Consists of a minimum of 23 credits in the BSN to PhD track, and a minimum of 8 credits in the MSN to PhD track.
  • Students are encouraged to take PSI courses outside of the School of Nursing and outside of the nursing discipline.
  • It is suggested that one PSI course be an advanced statistics/research methods course.
  • No more than one of the PSI courses is recommended to be taken as NUR 3060 Independent Study, so as to provide for a richer experience in the presence of other students and other disciplines.

Research Apprenticeship Model

The PhD program includes an apprenticeship model of research training that combines rigorous coursework and an apprenticeship with successful research mentors. This model includes a formalized series of Apprenticeship Practica (minimum of 6 credits under the direction of a research mentor), with recommended experiences and a series of defined deliverables. This experience allows for the opportunity to acquire individualized and tangible research skills within a mentored research application environment which is additive to and precedes the dissertation experience

All mentors are experienced nurse researchers. Apprenticed students acquire tangible skills in research methodology, grantsmanship, professional skills, the responsible conduct of research, and dissemination of research findings through publications and presentations. Students receive an intense and comprehensive research experience resulting in publications and pilot data to support applications for independent research funding and dissertation work.

Residency Requirement

The University Council on Graduate Studies mandates that students seeking a PhD degree are required to engage in a minimum of one term of full-time doctoral study (a minimum of nine credits), which excludes any other employment except as approved by their departments. The doctoral student must notify the PhD Program Director in writing during the term in which this occurs.

Comprehensive Examination and Overview

The comprehensive examination assesses the student's mastery of the general field of doctoral study, acquisition of depth and breadth of knowledge in a focused area of study, and the ability to use the research methods of the discipline. The comprehensive examination is taken after completion of all required course work and concurrent with the dissertation overview. Overview requires the student to formulate a research plan and to justify the selected approach for studying the topic.

For more information, see Policy 235.