Skip to main content


To earn the PhD, students must complete 22 course units (CUs) in addition to satisfying several non-credit milestones.


Core courses (5 CU)

Inquiry and Nursing

This course introduces students to the process of intellectual inquiry. It explores the intellectual foundations of scholarly disciplines in general and the discipline of nursing in particular. Emphasis is placed on the process of knowledge development, with particular emphasis on historical, philosophical, positivist, and gendered and phenomenological ways of knowing. Emphasis is also placed on having students develop their particular intellectual approach to disciplinary inquiry and on formulating ideas for publications and presentations.

Evolving Nursing Science

A consideration of contemporary nursing research as it pertains to the current state of the art and directions for future study. Advanced analysis of methodology, assumptions, and theoretical structures that underpin the work.

Quantitative Research Design and Methods

This one semester survey course provides an overview of quantitative clinical research design and methods. Ethical and legal considerations in human subjects research, access to patient populations, sampling designs and power analysis, experimental and non-experimental designs, measurement of variables, data collection techniques, and data management are included. This course is intended for doctoral students in the health sciences.

Dissertation Seminar I

Advanced study and research in nursing leading to the completion of the dissertation proposal.

Qualitative Paradigm Empirical Nursing Research

Study of selected qualitative paradigm empirical research approaches, including design and methodology. Critique of selected qualitative research reports from the literature of nursing and related disciplines. Fieldwork exercise and research proposal required.

Statistics Sequence (2 CU)

 Statistics sequence options
Students take a two-course statistics sequence in the first year. There are two primary options: SOCI 535 (Fall) and SOCI 536 (Spring), and STAT 500 (Fall) and STAT 501 (Spring). Students should consult with their faculty advisor(s) to choose the appropriate statistics sequence based on prior experience and the type of dissertation.

Teaching Residency (1 CU):

Nursing Doctoral Teaching Residency

The purpose of this required one semester teaching residency is to enhance the expertise of students in the role of educator. The residency will be tailored to the student’s individual learning needs. At the minimum, students with no or minimal prior teaching experience will gain a beginning level of expertise in course planning, course evaluation, dealing with difficult student situations, test construction, paper assignment construction and grading, content delivery methods, as well as other aspects of the faculty teaching role. Students with more extensive teaching experience will tailor their residences with their residency supervisor to enhance their expertise in these various areas.

Research Residency (1 CU):

Nursing Doctoral Research Residency

The purpose of this required one semester research residency is to enhance student research training early in the doctoral program by providing a mentored research experience. The residency is designed to be a tailored hands-on experience to provide students with exposure and the opportunity to participate in one or more aspects of an on-going research project. Research residencies are experiential activities designed to meet the student’s individual learning needs. At the minimum, students with no or minimal prior research experience will gain a beginning level of experience on a variety of components of an ongoing research project. Students with more extensive research experience will tailor their residences with their residency supervisor to enhance their expertise in these various areas.

Concentration courses (5 CU):

 Concentration courses
Concentration courses are intended to support the dissertation. These courses may be in a particular content area that are related to the planned dissertation, or methods courses teaching specific approaches. Concentration courses may be taken in Nursing or a different discipline at the University, and must be graduate-level courses taught by doctorally-prepared faculty. The student will work individually with faculty advisors to select the appropriate concentration courses.

MS Courses or General Credit (8 CU):

 MS Courses (for students in MS-PhD track)
Eight MS courses to support the dissertation work, four of which must be in Nursing. The courses must be graduate-level and taught by doctorally-prepared faculty.
General credit (for students in PhD track)
These eight course units are transferred in as a General Credit Waiver from the primary Master’s degree.


Qualifying Examination / MS-General Examination

Students in the PhD track complete the Qualifying Examination, while students in the MS-PhD track complete the MS General Exam. Typically a full-time student will defend the Qualifying / MS-General Exam in in the fall semester of the second year. 

The Qualifying / MS-General Examination determines the student’s potential for completing doctoral study. Successful completion of the examination signifies the student’s potential and the faculty’s commitment to provide scholarly resources needed to complete continuing course work and the dissertation.

For more information about the Qualifying / MS-General Exam, including timing, requirements, and procedure, see the PhD Student Handbook.

Candidacy Examination

The purpose of the Candidacy Exam, also referred to as the dissertation proposal defense, is to demonstrate an understanding of knowledge in the concentration area that supports the student’s dissertation research. The preparation for the exam occurs under the guidance of the Dissertation Committee.

For more information about the Candidacy Exam, including timing, requirements, and procedure, see the PhD Student Handbook.

Dissertation Status
Once the student has completed all course requirements, they will be registered for NURS 995: Dissertation Status. Dissertation status carries full-time registration status, and will be rostered in each semester until the dissertation defense.
Dissertation Defense

Writing and submitting your dissertation are among the final steps leading to the award of the PhD degree. At the University of Pennsylvania, a student presents and defends the dissertation publicly, and then, with the approval of the dissertation committee and graduate group chair, submits the final manuscript for publication. Finally, the PhD degree is awarded to the candidate upon the recommendation of the Graduate Council of the Faculties.

A bound copy of the dissertation is shelved in the University Library, where it is available through Interlibrary Loan. A digital copy is included in the ProQuest/UMI database, accessible online to subscribers and libraries.

For more information about the dissertation defense, including timing, requirements, and procedure, see the PhD Student Handbook.