PhD Program

Program Requirements

The PhD in Nursing at the University of Wisconsin–Madison prepares nurses with the foundation to become leaders in research that advances the scientific basis of nursing and contributes to the health of the public. The program is characterized by early and continuous training in research through a close mentoring relationship with faculty, a strong scientific base in nursing, and supporting courses in a related (i.e., minor) discipline. The curriculum provides students with:

  • a sound base in scholarly inquiry, including understanding of knowledge development in nursing and strong training in research methods,
  • an emphasis in one of two substantive domains: Theory and Practice of Nursing, or Policy and Leadership,
  • preparation for leadership as a nurse educator, and
  • content and shared experiences necessary to conduct research in a specified area of interest.

The faculty have just completed a comprehensive review of the PhD program and approved changes to the curriculum. The description below applies to students admitted beginning fall 2014.

In collaboration with the faculty mentor(s), students plan a course of study that constitutes a unified program and fulfills the program requirements. Students will select an emphasis in (1) Theory and Practice of Nursing, or (2) Policy and Leadership. The emphasis on Theory and Practice of Nursing will prepare nurse scientists who desire to advance the science and practice of nursing by developing and/or testing theory that drives nursing practice; designing and conducting clinical efficacy and effectiveness trials of nursing interventions to improve health; and positions students to build a program of research around a clinical problem, phenomenon, or population of interest that will shape patient care across various settings. The emphasis on Policy and Leadership will prepare nurse scientists with the conceptual strategies and methodological skills to assess and address the biobehavioral, social and economic public policy factors that influence the definition of what constitutes health problems and the manner in which they are treated.

When coursework is completed, students write the comprehensive examination for candidacy to demonstrate mastery of core knowledge in nursing and the related minor area(s) as well as the theories and methods of inquiry. Successful completion of the examination advances the student to candidacy and signals readiness to conduct independent research.

    • PhD in Nursing Sample Program; Policy & Leadership Emphasis (part-time)  (download PDF)
    • PhD in Nursing Sample Program; Policy & Leadership Emphasis (full-time) (download PDF)
    • PhD in Nursing Sample Program; Theory & Practice Emphasis (full-time) (download PDF)

Program content is organized in the following curricular areas. A minimum of 52 credits is required.

SCHOLARLY INQUIRY - 18 credits minimum required

  • N803 and N804 Advanced Research Design and Methods I & II: 6 credits
    Description: The focus of these courses is on nursing and health related research traditions, the relationship between research paradigms and research designs and how various research designs have been used by nurse researchers. Both quantitative and qualitative methods and approaches will be examined. Basic assumptions, advantages, and limitations of different methodological approaches in the context of clinical nursing phenomena will be addressed. Draws on major programs of research in nursing, including faculty research.
  • N815 Knowledge Development in Nursing: 3 credits
    Description: Examination of the history of the discipline of nursing, with emphasis on the evolution of debates regarding what is known and how it is known.
  • N816 Proseminar in Nursing Research: 1 credit (Two semesters required)
    This seminar focuses on professional development and socialization to the role of nurse scientist. Topics emphasize development of career paths that will lead to productive research, scholarly publication/presentation, master teaching, and academic leadership. Discussion includes current topics in nursing research, especially as illustrated by the planned and ongoing research of graduate students and faculty in nursing.

    Two semesters are required; one in the first year of doctoral study and one as the student is nearing completion of coursework (Year 3).
  • N802 Ethics and the Responsible Conduct of Research: 1 credit
    Description: Ethical issues in the design, conduct, and reporting of research are examined in the context of the nature of the scientific endeavor, the structure of the research community, and professional and federal guidelines for supporting scientific integrity and controlling misconduct.
  • Advanced Methods/Statistics (3 credits)

POLICY AND LEADERSHIP - 3-9 credits minimum required

  • N703 Health Care and Public Policy: 3 credits
  • N817 Research in Communities, Populations, and Systems: 3 credits
    Description: Students will examine concepts and methods of research directed toward health of communities, populations, and systems. The course provides a foundation for future research.
  • Policy and Leadership Practicum: 3 credits
    Students will engage as participants and observers in varied public policy agencies that correspond to their research problems or populations of interest. The focus will be on examining how a particular set of policies can influence the health of individuals or a given population.
  • (N817 and the Policy and Leadership Practicum are required if students select this area of emphasis)

THEORY AND PRACTICE OF NURSING - 3-9 credits minimum required

  • Population or Phenomenon
  • N590 Contemporary Practices in Nursing – Various Special Topics: 1-3 credits
  • N702 Health Promotion and Disease  Prevention in Diverse Communities: 3 credits
    Health promotion and disease prevention interventions are examined for populations, incorporating multidisciplinary approaches. Focuses on developing increased knowledge, appreciation, and skills for health promotion and disease prevention among diverse communities. Addresses epidemiological, individual, socio-economic, and environmental factors related to health status. Proposes strategies to reduce health disparities among vulnerable populations.
  • N722 Advanced Practice Nursing Theory: Adults and Older Adults: 3 credits
    This course will examine theoretical perspectives and evidence-based approaches to human responses to health and illness during adulthood and old age. Concepts and research from multiple disciplines will be examined as a framework for reflective practice with adults.
  • N741 Advanced Practice Nursing Theory: Family Process & Child Development: 3 credits
    Analyzes selected family and child development theories and research that inform advanced practice nursing. Applies these concepts to assess child and family needs, enhance the parent-child relationship, and develop family-centered, culturally responsive interventions in health and illness.
  • N751 Advanced Practice Nursing Theory: Psychiatric Mental Health: 3 credits
    Analysis and integration of selected theories and models in psychotherapy, neuroscience, mental health, psychiatric disorders, and advanced psychiatric mental health nursing in complex care settings with diverse patients, communities, and populations.
  • N818 Patient-Centered Research: 3 credits
    Description: This course addresses conceptual and methodological perspectives in how patient-centered research is conducted from the development through the testing and implementation of interventions. Attention is given to various conceptualizations of patient-centeredness, to the behavioral and physiological origins of patient-centered interventions, and to the trajectory of testing such interventions, from descriptive studies to experimental trials.
  • Clinical Field Practicum: 3 credits
    Students will engage as participants and observers in clinical or other care settings that correspond to their research problems or populations of interest. The focus will be on deepening knowledge of the health problems faced by patients in the care setting, development of research questions or proposals to improve their health outcomes, and understanding facets of the environment that influence how research is implemented there.
  • (N818 and the Clinical Field Practicum are required if students select this area of emphasis)

NURSING EDUCATION - 3 credits minimum required

  • Three required credits may be earned in coursework or in a teaching practicum. Courses in nursing education include:
  • N785 Foundations of Curriculum Development and Evaluation in Nursing Education, 3 credits
    Description: Examination and application of knowledge and skills related to curriculum planning, implementation and evaluation for nursing education. Emphasis on history and philosophy of nursing curricula, models of curriculum and evaluation, and strategies for change and innovation.
  • N786 Foundations of Teaching and Learning in Nursing: 3 credits
    Description: The focus of this course is the planning, implementing, and evaluation of teaching and learning strategies for nursing education within diverse settings and student populations.
  • N787 Nursing Education Practicum: 1-3 credits
    Description: Application of knowledge and skills in the nurse educator role in selected educational environments (classroom, clinical, laboratory and/or communities). Seminar component included for discussion of instructional experiences and issues.

PhD MINOR - 9 credits minimum required

The purpose of the minor is to add breadth to a PhD major. Two minor options are available. The Option A minor requires a minimum of 9 credits in a single department/major field of study. Examples of Option A minors include Women's Studies, Sociology, Educational Psychology, Prevention Science, Industrial Engineering, and Business. The Option B minor, or distributed minor, requires a minimum of 9 credits in one or more departments and can include coursework in the School of Nursing.

There are a number of certificate programs that can be used to fulfill the minor requirement. Some examples include:

Consumer Health Advocacy
Fundamentals of Clinical Research
Gender and Women's Studies
Global Health
Humans and the Global Environment
Patient Safety
Prevention and Intervention Science
Type 2 Translational Research

To learn more, go to:

RESEARCH/DISSERTATION - 10 credits minimum required

  • N799/N999/N990 Guided research, including the dissertation
  • Students are expected to take at least 1 credit of Independent Study and participate in their faculty mentor’s research group (or another research group agreed upon with the mentor) each semester.