Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

As one of the first schools in the United States to offer a doctor of philosophy program for nursing, the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing’s PhD program has been described as pioneering since its inception in 1954.

Pitt Nursing doctoral students work closely with internationally recognized faculty who lead cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. Students receive in-depth training in both clinical and laboratory research, and leave prepared to be outstanding nurse scientists and academic faculty.

Focal areas of the program include:

  • Technology use in patient management
  • Patient adherence to treatment
  • Cancer survivorship
  • Genomics
  • Behavioral interventions in chronic conditions
  • Symptom management
  • Primary prevention in chronic disease
  • Health Services and Policy
  • Maternal/Perinatal and Reproductive Health

Students also gain teaching and mentoring skills through coursework and experiences in clinical and didactic instruction as well as mentorship of undergraduate students through our Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program.

Program Description

The PhD program of study provides a coherent series of courses, seminars, and discussions designed to help the student develop a mature understanding of content, methods, and values of the discipline of nursing and its relation to other fields.

Courses focus on:

  • Philosophical underpinnings and theoretical foundations for research
  • Research design, measurement, and intervention development
  • Advanced statistics
  • Advanced quantitative and qualitative methods
  • Responsibilities and activities of scientists
  • Art and science of teaching and learning

Students work closely with faculty researchers from nursing and other disciplines. Research interests and expertise of doctoral program faculty reflect a diversity of educational backgrounds and research experience. At program initiation, the student selects an area of research emphasis, and is matched with a faculty member with a similar line of inquiry. The focal areas of research are in keeping with the goals and mission of the University, its resources and cooperating agencies, and with the expertise of the School of Nursing doctoral faculty.

Each student participates in two mentored research experiences.

The first is the Apprenticeship Practica, wherein students affiliate with a mentor's established research team over time to explore the scientific literature, develop, plan, and implement an apprenticeship research project, and disseminate findings. 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.

The second mentored research experience is the students development and implementation of their independent dissertation project, culminating in dissertation defense.

Students prepare and submit applications for competitive research funding.

Doctoral study is rigorous and requires considerable time and energy on the part of both students and faculty. The Doctor of Philosophy Degree requires a distinctive level of performance as a scholar, researcher, and academician; this goes beyond an acceptable level of performance in individual courses that comprise the program of study.

Purpose & Student Learning Outcomes

The purpose of the PhD in nursing degree program is to prepare scholars who will discover and extend scientific knowledge that advances the science and practice of nursing and contributes to other disciplines.

PhD Application/Admission

Each application to the program is reviewed in its entirety and appraised for evidence of intellectual inquisitiveness and rigor, and commitment and motivation for scholarship and the development of nursing science. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is no longer a mandatory component of the application process.

PhD Dissertation

Each student must write a dissertation that presents the results of a research project carried out by the student. View Upcoming Dissertation Defenses


Teaching Fellow, Teaching Assistant, Graduate Student Researcher, and Graduate Student Assistant positions, which provide a stipend and tuition benefits, are available on a competitive basis.

Current Students

Learn more about our PhD students and the impactful research they are conducting.

Minors and Certificates

Learn more about minors and certificates that can be obtained while completing your PhD.

Contact Information

Dr. Heidi Donovan, PhD Program Director
Phone: 412-624-2699