Make discoveries that will change health care

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Program Focus

The PhD program offered by the University of Michigan School of Nursing prepares an exclusive cadre of nurse scientists capable of developing the new knowledge necessary to support and advance nursing practice. The program is predicated on a strong foundation of clinical expertise framed by a nursing perspective; education at the doctoral level builds upon and extends content acquired at the baccalaureate and master’s levels and emphasizes theory development and research skills. 
Our graduates are clinically proficient and have advanced preparation in nursing and related sciences, as well as in research methods and data analysis.  In addition to offerings within the School of Nursing, the program draws on the curricular and research resources of other disciplines and institutes within the University - a leader in education and research - making the opportunity to study the inter-relationships of physiological, psychological, and socio-cultural variables, alone or in combination, as they influence health outcomes a great strength of U-M's doctoral program.
Ultimately, building off the pedagogy of all U-M School of Nursing programs, the doctoral program prepares nurses who contribute to the field of nursing through active research, advanced practice, and progressive leadership in education, professional nursing organizations, health care systems, and other health related enterprises.
The doctoral program is available to post-baccalaureate or post-master’s applicants.
See the application requirements for this program.


Concentrations within the PhD Program:

Health Promotion and Risk Reduction

Health promotion/risk reduction scholarship refers to: (1) understanding factors that influence at-risk or health promoting behaviors throughout the life span, (2) identifying interactions among behavioral, biophysical, genetic, cultural, and socio-economic processes that influence at-risk and health-promoting behavior and related health outcomes, and (3) designing and testing of intervention to bring about changes in individual and aggregate health-related behavior.


  • Critically analyze empirical support for existing theories relevant to health promotion and risk reduction
  • Develop new theoretical constructs and determine their usefulness in predicting health-promoting and risk-reducing behaviors of individuals, families and community-based aggregates
  • Demonstrate competence in behavioral and biological measurement of health actions and health status parameters
  • Demonstrate competence in designing multi-disciplinary studies to test the efficacy of intervention to improve health in socio-economically and racially diverse populations
  • Demonstrate expertise in research design, data collection and analytic techniques appropriate to the study of health behaviors and related health outcomes
  • Report research findings in nursing and multi-disciplinary publications in a critical and scientifically sound manner
  • Identify implications of health promotion and risk reduction research for informing health policy

Learn about the School of Nursing's Post-Doctoral Training Fellowship opportunity in the area of health promotion and risk reduction with vulnerable populations.


The focus of the bio-behavior concentration relates to human responses to or behaviors during illness and in the restoration of health that arise from the interaction of biological and environmental processes. The purpose of the concentration is to develop scientists with the theoretical and methodological expertise pertinent to this focus. The concentration is directed toward: (1) expanding scientific knowledge of fundamental mechanisms underlying human responses (behaviors) during illness; and (2) developing and empirically testing the efficacy of theoretically valid and culturally appropriate therapeutic strategies for nursing treatment, support or management of these responses.  This concentration offers a particular emphasis on cognitive function and dysfunction.

Guiding Assumptions:

  • Foundational introduction is necessary for students selecting the concentration; at least two levels are conceptualized, the foundational as the first level, and a second level that builds on this foundation
  • A broad paradigm/perspective organizes the concentration, allowing for use of a multiplicity of theoretical and methodological approaches
  • Objectives should address theory, methods and values pertinent to the focus, and should be at the highest levels of learning taxonomies


  • Critically evaluate empirical evidence and existing theories relevant to the understanding and treatment of human responses during illness and in the restoration of health that arise from the interaction of biological and environmental processes
  • Synthesize defensible frameworks or theories to guide investigation of human responses and phenomena emphasizing biological aspects of the person interacting with the environment
  • Evaluate the therapeutic usefulness of nursing interventions and innovations that use the interaction of biological and environmental processes to counteract the impact of illness to restore health and evaluate the implications of interventions for health policy
  • Demonstrate competence in the selection and use of appropriate methodological approaches and analytic and measurement techniques
  • Design and implement research paradigms for developing or testing theories pertinent to a person-environment interaction framework
  • Act on pertinent ethical principles in the design of research protocols addressing mental and/or physical impairments or those involving persons so affected

Nursing Systems

Nursing systems is conceptualized as the providers, resources, structures, methods and processes essential for the efficient and effective delivery of nursing care to aggregates of individuals. The concentration is directed toward preparing nurse scientists with expertise in: (1) evaluating theoretical and empirical knowledge about inter-and intra-organizational phenomena relevant to the delivery of nursing care; (2) developing and validating new theoretical constructs and models that explain nursing phenomena from a systems perspective. Specific research projects in the nursing systems domain include effectiveness and outcomes of nursing care; components of ethical practice; professional practice models; cost-effective practices; resource requirements for quality care; work and role redesign of the registered nurse.


  • Critically evaluate the theoretical and empirical knowledge about inter-and intra-organizational phenomena relevant to the understanding of nursing systems
  • Develop and validate new theoretical constructs and models that explain nursing phenomena from a systems perspective
  • Contribute to knowledge development in the domain of nursing systems through the generations of new knowledge as well as the synthesis of nursing knowledge with that of related disciplines
  • Extend and refine the definition of the domain of nursing systems
  • Demonstrate expertise in research design, data collection and analytic techniques appropriate to the study of the nursing systems domain
  • Contribute to the research literature in nursing related disciplines
  • Demonstrate competence in the measurement of macro- and micro-level variables central to nursing systems
  • Demonstrate competence in working with large data sets to address questions central to nursing systems

Women's Health

Women's health pertains to the physical, psychological, and social well-being of women. This area of study takes into account: (1) the diversity and heterogeneity of women; (2) the variety of concerns that affect their well-being; and (3) a feminist perspective that acknowledges the socio-political context which, in many ways, determines the health of women. For example, the feminization of poverty, the disproportionate demand on women as caretakers, higher levels of violence against women, imputation of pathology to physiologic function, and gender-bias in treatment decisions clearly influence health outcomes. A feminist perspective affirms that women's bodies, and their health needs, are different from those of men (e.g. fertility control, menstruation, and menopause concerns affect women more directly than they concern men). The power shift that occurs when women's health care needs are medicalized and pathologized extracts the greatest toll from women.
The women's health concentration is directed toward expanding the capacity of nurse-scientists to build knowledge that will maximize the health of women and transform the values and structures of the health care system. The long-range consequence of such transformation is to better health care across gender, ethnic, class, and other barriers that unjustly influence the quality of care. Students in this concentration will generate sound frameworks to support testing nursing theory that will lead to evidence-based nursing practice.


  • Critically analyze the theoretical and empirical evidence relevant to women's health
  • Evaluate the status of women's health and the health care available to women comparing quality across race, class, age, sexual orientation, or geographic region
  • Examine nursing theory, empiricism, and critical theory as frameworks for scientific inquiry about the health of women
  • Develop new theoretical constructs that bridge identified gaps between modern feminism, emancipatory theory, and traditional science in the service of improving the health of diverse populations
  • Use contemporary technology, such as the Internet and other applications, to search for relevant resources and to communicate with international scholars
  • Demonstrate competence in the measurement and accurate representation of parameters and events, with attention to reflecting the meaning and perspectives of study participants
  • Develop research designs, data collection methods, and analysis procedures that actively involve study participants and incorporate multidisciplinary viewpoints
  • Report research findings in a scientifically sound manner that makes the knowledge produced publicly accessible and available to form the foundation for future research


The PhD program prepares graduates to:
  • Engage in scholarly pursuits and independent research
  • Develop advanced knowledge and skills in research methods, data analysis, and inferential processes, as they relate to nursing practice and theory development
  • Investigate and test the validity of current and developing theories related to nursing science
  • Develop the ability to construct nursing theory, using knowledge from practice, research and related disciplines
  • Provide intellectual leadership in the conduct of nursing research, development of nursing theory and expansion of the science of nursing
  • Participate in policy development and decision-making at the state, national, and international level
  • Assume leadership roles in education, professional nursing organizations, health service systems and other health related enterprises
  • Utilize related concepts, theories and strategies from nursing and related disciplines in the analysis of issues and in the resolution of problems confronting nursing and health care delivery systems

Program Appeal

  • Prepares leaders who are in significant positions throughout the world
  • Graduates are in great demand
  • Highly diverse student population
  • Fully integrated across the university with seven courses taken outside of nursing
  • Students from many countries
  • Known as a leader in post-baccalaureate education
  • Opportunity to work with leading nurse scientists
  • Emphasis on interdisciplinary research


The PhD program is specifically designed to focus on research in nursing.  The curriculum is in an on-campus format, however a few of the courses may be offered in a web-blended format.  Students admitted to the PhD program should plan to be on-campus one to two days per week for class time.  Students are encouraged to enroll full-time in the PhD program (only students enrolled full-time in the program are considered for Graduate Student Research Assistants (GRSA) positions which offer tuition support).  The PhD program is offered as a fall term start only, admitted students to the PhD program are offered a full-time (4 year) or part-time (5 year) program plan.

PhD Core Courses (theoretical and health care issues)

  • N801 - Directed Study in Clinical Nursing (3 credits)
  • N821 - Advanced Nursing Theory and Development (3 credits)
  • N570 - Philosophy of Science (3 credits)

Advance Nursing Practice - Specialization

Students must complete coursework in an advanced practice specialization. Post-baccalaureate students will complete 13 credits of advanced nursing practice coursework. 
Post-masters students may have completed relevant coursework in their previous Master’s program to fulfill the required 13 credits of advanced nursing practice coursework.  A review of each admitted student will be conducted prior to the first term of enrollment to determine all courses needed to fulfill the PhD curriculum requirements.

Research and Theory in Concentration Area

All PhD students are required to complete 9 credits of chosen concentration coursework (Health Promotion/Risk Reduction, Bio-Behavior, Women’s Health and Systems Leadership and Effectiveness Science). See above for more specific concentration information.


  • N830 - Advanced Measurement and Design (3 credits)
  • N831 - Advanced Data Analysis (3 credits)
  • Two additional approved graduate level statistics courses (6 credits total)
  • One additional approved graduate level research methods or advanced analysis course 93 credits)


Students must enroll in at least 4 credits of cognate courses in other disciplines relevant to the student’s area of research.

Preliminary Examination

 All PhD students must fulfill the preliminary exam (course N990) for 1-9 credits to attain candidacy. The number of credits will vary based on the student and progression of preliminary exam/review.

Research Projects / Dissertation

The PhD requires the submission of two solely authored research projects. Post-masters students may submit their Master’s thesis (if applicable) to fulfill the first project requirements, the dissertation (minimum 8 credits) is the required second project. 
Post-baccalaureate students will complete a first project (scholarly paper) at a maximum of 2 credits and the dissertation (minimum of 8 credits) to fulfill the research project requirements.

Additional Requirements

(must be approved by faculty advisor prior to completion)

  • Completion of one unit of work experience
  • Completion of a research experience
  • Completion of certification for conduct of research (PEERRS)

All PhD students will be required to provide evidence of work experience (clinical or research focused), research experience (preliminary exam, research projects, GRSA position, etc…) and PEERRS certification.

Total Credits

46 - 69

The number of credits will vary based on previous education and the number of credits needed to successfully fulfill the dissertation requirement.