PhD Program Introduction

Mission and Philosophy

The mission of the doctoral program of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is to develop scholars of the discipline of Nursing capable of building a program of research that advances nursing knowledge and contributes to the health of individuals, families, and communities.  

Graduates of this program will serve as leaders at the forefront of nursing research and its translation into practice locally, nationally, and globally. These nurse scientists will create new knowledge and be informed by a nursing perspective to enhance health and to develop and test innovations to improve outcomes of healthcare, with a priority on populations at greatest need.

The foundation of program success is the substantive match between the student and the faculty advisor. The educational experience focuses on the processes of exploring and examining substantive bodies of knowledge.  The researcher’s development is fostered through exposure to an array of philosophic and methodological aspects of nursing and related basic and applied disciplines.

 Research preparation consists of both formal and informal learning opportunities including course work, examinations and precepted learning opportunities such as residencies and assistantships. Evidence of scholarly development is required throughout the program of study to mark the student’s developing intellectual scholarly capability and breadth and depth of knowledge potential.  Hallmarks of these accomplishments include approval of a coherent plan of study, successful and timely completion of the qualifying examination (general exam substituted for MS/PhD students), candidacy examination (formerly known as the proposal defense), and the dissertation. 

Students are also encouraged to review the Mission and Values of the School of Nursing.

Program Objectives

To develop nurse scholars and scientists who will:

  • Conduct research for advancement of nursing knowledge and practice.

  • Provide leadership in the research, education, and practice mission of academic nursing.

  • Design a plan for continuing scholarly and career development.

  • Integrate nursing knowledge within the broad social, economic and political contexts to influence the strategic direction of healthcare policy institutions and organizations.

  • Display well-honed aptitude for intellectual critique and scholarly writing.

Role Dimensions and Core Competencies

 The PhD program curriculum imbeds a set of core competences within a research-focused program framework that aligns with the AACN’s report, The Research-Focused Doctoral Program in Nursing: Pathways to Excellence, embracing role dimensions and core competencies/skills to advance the science of nursing practice.

Penn Nursing PhD Program - Role Dimensions and Core Competencies

Role Dimension

Core Competencies


Being a Scholar

  • Intellectual Inquiry and knowledge generation
  • Theory development, application and evaluation
  • Development of programs of research
  • Critical appraisal of broad base of scholarship


Being a Scientist

  • Broad knowledge of research methods; competence in select method(s)
  • Analytic knowledge and innovation in application
  • Grant writing; thesis development and defense
  • Ethics of inquiry
  • Data collection and management
  • Knowledge dissemination and systems change