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PhD in Nursing Curriculum


The PhD program in Nursing consists of 22 course units (CUs).* Core courses, a statistics sequence, concentration courses, and non-credit requirements are required by the Graduate Group in Nursing for the PhD in Nursing degree. Additionally, eight (8) course units (CUs) are transferred in as “General Credit” from the primary Master’s degree. Descriptions of requirements are listed below.


The MS/PhD program in Nursing consists of a total of 22 course units (CUs).*  The Master of Science (MS) degree requires 8 CUs — four of these courses must be taken within nursing and four must be taken within the student’s area of interest/major. The remaining 14 CUs are comprised of core courses, a statistics sequence, and concentration courses. Students must also complete non-credit requirements for the PhD in Nursing degree. Descriptions of requirements are listed below.

Core Courses (7 Course Units)
  • NURS 750: Inquiry and Nursing
  • NURS 753 Evolving Nursing Science
  • NURS 754: Quantitative Research Designs and Methods
  • NURS 800: Dissertation Seminar
  • NURS 813: Qualitative Paradigm Empirical Nursing Research
  • NURS 890: Teaching Residency
  • NURS 897: Research Residency
Statistics Sequence (2 Course Units)

Students must complete a two-course statistics sequence. In most cases, students should follow the recommended sequence as determined by the academic department (i.e. SOCI 535 and SOCI 536, or STAT 500 and STAT 501). 

  • Part I (choose one of the following)
    • SOCI 535: Quantitative Methods I
    • STAT 500: Applied Regression and Analysis of Variance
    • PUBH 501: Introduction to Biostatistics
    • EPID 526: Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods I
  • Part II (choose one of the following)
    • SOCI 536: Quantitative Methods II
    • STAT 501: Introduction to Nonparametric Methods and Log-linear Models
    • HPR 608: Applied Regression Analysis for Health Policy Research
    • EPID 527: Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods II

Students should consult with their faculty advisor(s) to choose the appropriate statistics sequence based on prior experience and the type of dissertation.

Concentration Courses (5 Course Units)

Concentration courses are intended to support the dissertation. These courses may be in particular content areas (e.g. genetics, health disparities) that are related to the planned dissertation or methods courses teaching specific approaches (e.g. clinical trial design). Courses may be taken in nursing or a different discipline at the University of Pennsylvania. The student should discuss possible content and methods courses with her/his advisors and search for courses that support the dissertation topic. Students should consult with their faculty advisor(s) to choose the appropriate statistics sequence based on prior experience and the type of dissertation.

Students are required to complete a minimum of five (5 CU) concentration courses.


Concentration courses must be graduate level (typically 500-level and above) courses taught by doctorally-prepared faculty.   

MS Courses or General Credit (8 Course Units)

Students who have completed a related Masters Degree before starting the PhD degree with be awarded a “General Credit” in the amount of 8 Course Units.

Students who enter the PhD program from the BSN must complete an additional eight CUs for the Master in Science (MS) in passing degree. Four of these courses must be within Nursing, while the other four courses should relate to the student’s area of interest. Courses must be graduate-level and taught by doctorally-prepared faculty.

Non-credit Requirements

Doctoral programs at the University of Pennsylvania also have non-credit requirements for graduation. The Graduate Group in Nursing requires:

  • Qualifying Examination (or MS General Examination for those students entering the MS-PhD program)
  • Candidacy Examination (a defense of the dissertation proposal)
  • Dissertation work and registration of NURS 995 Dissertation Status
  • Defense of the final dissertation

The length of time that most students take to complete coursework is from three to five years of full-time study.

View sample plans of study.

* For program requirements and plans of study for PhD and MS-PhD students who entered the program in Fall 2010 or earlier, please request a copy of an archived handbook from the Office of Student Services.

Plan of Study Procedure

In the spring semester of the first year, students must meet with their academic advisor(s) to select coursework for the plan of study. 

The student, with assistance from the academic advisor(s), should develop a plan of study that provides sufficient breadth and depth of the methods, theoretical perspective, and content needed to complete the dissertation study. 

The plan of study should include the 14 course units to be taken if entering with a Master’s degree or 22 course units if entering with a baccalaureate. It should include the semester that each course will be taken.  Students must complete the PhD Plan of Study Form in conjunction with the academic advisor(s), and submit to the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs. The Graduate Group in Nursing Chair will review for final approval.

Once the Plan of Study has been approved, students should enter the plan into their Academic Planning Worksheet in Penn InTouch. The worksheet is an electronic repository for the plan of study.  Instructions on how to log the plan of study are posted on the DSO intranet site (School of Nursing credentials needed to view). Any changes to the plan of study must first be approved by the academic advisor(s). Students should also update their academic planning worksheet in Penn-in-Touch.

Program Time Limits

The total amount of time permitted for completion of coursework, examinations, residencies, and dissertation is seven (7) years from the date of matriculation for students in the PhD in Nursing and the MS/PhD in Nursing programs. It is eight (8) years from the date of matriculation for students in MSN/PhD in Nursing program. 

A request for an extension to the time limit must be put in writing and addressed to the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair for consideration.

Annual Reporting of Student Progress

All students must complete and submit to the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs an Annual Progress Report by May 1st of each year. The report will include progress in completing program requirements during the past 12 months and a timeline for the completion of the remaining program requirements.  This report must be reviewed and signed by the student’s advisor or dissertation chair. The report is reviewed by Graduate Group in Nursing Chair.

In addition, it is a University requirement that students who have constituted their dissertation committee must meet with their entire committee as a group at least once each year. Nursing PhD students will report the details of this meeting on the Annual Progress Report form that is due on May 1st of each year.

Dual Degree Programs

Students who enter the PhD program without a Master’s degree must complete the requirements for the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Master of Science (MS) as well as the requirements for the PhD degree. 

Students in the MSN/PhD, MBE/PhD, or other programs must fulfill the requirements of their selected master’s program in addition to the PhD requirements.