Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

"The most valuable parts of my experience at UW–Madison have been the incredible mentoring and opportunities. I have been able to travel and present at national and international conferences, have received funding for a pilot study, and have attended many professional development events."

Jessica Rainbow, PhD '18

About Our PhD Program

Nadeen Sami Alshakhshir presents at the 2023 Nursing Poster Fair.

The PhD program prepares researchers to develop, evaluate, and disseminate new knowledge in nursing and health science.

At UW–Madison, students actively engage in research early in their PhD programs. The UW–Madison campus offers opportunities for interdisciplinary training. Located near the School of Medicine and Public Health, the School of Pharmacy, and UW Hospital and Clinics, the School of Nursing is well positioned for collaboration across health care professions. Our faculty, staff, and students work together with scientists and renowned scholars across the UW–Madison campus, the nation, and the world.

Program Basics

Delivery: In person
Credits: 52
Program Length: 3-5 years
Tuition: Tuition remission with graduate assistantship
Eligible Applicants: BSN or MS degree holders

Why Research at UW–Madison

A faculty mentor with similar research interests or methodologies will be key to your success in our PhD program. Our faculty have a wide variety of research interests and work closely with their PhD students.

What Students and Alumni Say About the PhD Program

Nadeen Sami Alshakhsir’s Journey to a PhD in Nursing

Nadeen Sami Alshakhshir, PhD’24, MSN, RN,  shares why she chose the UW–Madison School of Nursing for her PhD program.

Caitlin Conway’s Journey to a PhD in Nursing

Caitlin Conway, a PhD student at the UW–Madison School of Nursing, shares how she went from thinking research wasn’t right for her to enrolling in the PhD program.

PhD Curriculum

Overview & Core Courses

The PhD program is in-person for students to engage in scholarly inquiry and conduct research side-by-side with faculty and peers.

Our program requires a minimum of 52 credits and is designed to be completed in 3–5 years.

Students complete core courses in the following areas:

  • Scholarly Inquiry
  • Theory and Practice of Nursing
  • Policy and Leadership
  • Nursing Education

Students must also:

  • Complete a PhD minor through intentional and collaborative coursework outside of nursing.
  • Participate in research groups or guided research experiences, and an independent dissertation study.

View Sample PhD Programs and PhD Student Learning Outcomes.

A researcher interacts with a patient at the UW South Madison Partnership

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Scholarly Inquiry: 18 credits min

N803 and N804 Advanced Research Design and Methods I & II (6 credits): 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.

N815 Knowledge Development in Nursing (3 credits): 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 are required; one in the first year of doctoral study and one as the student is nearing completion of coursework (Year 3). 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.

N802 Ethics and the Responsible Conduct of Research (1 credit): 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 (6 credits)

Policy & Leadership: 3-9 credits min

N703 Health Care and Public Policy (3 credits)

N817 Research in Communities, Populations, and Systems (3 credits): Students will examine concepts and methods of research directed toward health of communities, populations, and systems. The course provides a foundation for future research.

N847 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 N847 are required if students select this area of emphasis.

Theory & Practice of Nursing: 3-9 credits min

A Population or Phenomenon Course

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.

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): 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.

N819 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 N819 are required if students select this area of emphasis

Nursing Education: 3 credits min

Three required credits may be earned in coursework focusing on nursing education. Suggested nursing courses (but other education-focused courses may be approved) include:

N785 Foundations of Curriculum Development and Evaluation in Nursing Education (3 credits): 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): 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): 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.

Research/Dissertation/Group Participation: 10 credits min

N799/N999/N990: Guided research, dissertation work, and participation in their faculty mentor’s research group (or another research group agreed upon with the mentor) each semester.

PhD Minor: 9 credits min

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:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Consumer Health Advocacy
  • Fundamentals of Clinical Research
  • Gender and Women’s Studies
  • Gerontology
  • Global Health
  • Humans and the Global Environment
  • Patient Safety
  • Prevention and Intervention Science
  • Clinical and Community Outcomes Research

PhD Request for Information

What area(s) of focus interest you?
I am also interested in a Nurse Educator Certificate

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How to Apply

Eligibility Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited (CCNE or NLN) program
  • Undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) on the last 60 credits of the most recent baccalaureate degree
  • Three or four academic references from individuals who can speak to your scholarly activities, research capabilities, and potential for success in the doctoral program
  • Two examples of original papers or other scholarly work
  • Essay describing your reasons for pursuing a PhD, research interests, and career goals

English Proficiency

If your native language is not English and your undergraduate instruction was not in English, you need a minimum English proficiency test score:

  • TOEFL = 580 (paper)/92 (internet-based)
  • MELAB = 82
  • IELTS = 7

Please refer to the Graduate School for more information.

You are exempt if:

  • English is the exclusive language of instruction at the undergraduate institution you attended.
  • You earned a degree from a regionally accredited U.S. college or university within five years of your anticipated start date.
  • Excluding ESL (English as a Second Language) courses, you have completed at least two full-time semesters of graded coursework in a U.S. college or university, or at an institution outside the U.S. where English is the exclusive language of instruction, not more than five years prior to the anticipated semester of enrollment.

Full-time students receive tuition remission, a monthly stipend, and eligibility for health insurance for the first four years of study. Students still pay segregated and other fees to the university.

Learn more about Graduate Assistant benefits and compensation rates.

All students are encouraged to apply for :

  • External funding to support their training (i.e., NRSA and similar fellowships).
  • Internal funding for graduate assistants.

Our program requires a minimum of 52 credits and can be completed in 3–4 years. Graduate school cost of attendance is based on a nine-month period.

Although the cost of attending UW–Madison will vary among all students, the university bases its financial aid awards on this budget: Graduate School Cost of Attendance.

Visit the Costs & Financial Aid page for full information about financial support.

Submit your online application and all required application materials by the following deadlines:

  • Application opens: Early September
  • Priority deadline for funding consideration: December 1
  • Deadline for Fall (international applicants only): March 15
  • Deadline for Spring: October 1

After the priority deadlines, completed applications will be considered for admission and financial awards as available.

Once you have submitted your application, you will be able to track the Graduate School’s and the School of Nursing’s receipt of your materials through the online status system.

When we have received all the required application materials, we give every application a complete and holistic review.

The faculty admissions committee reviews each candidate’s application and makes a recommendation about advancing to an interview. We schedule interviews with potential faculty advisors as part of the application process and can schedule online interviews for applicants.

We have limited funding to cover travel costs for the interview process. Funding for travel is decided on a first come, first serve basis.

We will continuously review completed applications from eligible candidates.

Submit these materials to the graduate school:

  • UW–Madison graduate electronic application: Complete and submit online
  • Official transcripts or academic records from all institutions attended. International academic records must be in the original language accompanied by an official English translation. Documents must be issued by the school with the official seal/stamp and an official signature. If you are currently completing a degree, you will need to provide a final transcript indicating your degree was awarded.
  • Curriculum vitae or resume
  • TOEFL, IELTS, or MELAB score (international students only)
  • Three or four letters of recommendation: Provide names and contact information of references in your online application.
  • Upload two examples of scholarly work that are related to nursing or health: We want to know more about your current thinking that is related to nursing or scholarship. Please share with us writing samples that you think would provide a good picture of your writing ability and thinking in these areas. Samples do not need to be previously published works. Samples could be a manuscript, paper written for a course, research report, essay, or a detailed description of a nursing program you developed and evaluated, with rationale.
    • If you are submitting a writing sample with multiple authors, please provide a description of your role in the writing process and which part(s) you were responsible for writing.
  • Your reasons for seeking a PhD in nursing: Please provide detailed responses to ALL of the following questions. Your statement must address ALL of the following in six (6) pages or less, double-spaced, PDF format:
    • What are your motives in seeking a PhD in nursing? Include your career goals, future job/position you would like to pursue, as well as how getting a PhD in nursing could help you to meet your future goals and/or career pursuit.
    • At this time, what topics or questions are you interested in studying? Among what group or population might your area of research include? Additionally, what are your reasons for choosing your research interest and subject group?
    • What research experiences have you had? Please describe how these experiences may have prepared you for graduate school. If you have not had prior experience in research, then describe an experience in which you had to problem-solve your way to a good solution. How might this experience have prepared you for conducting research?
    • What are your reasons for applying to the University of Wisconsin–Madison? Include in your reason(s) how earning a PhD in nursing at UW–Madison addresses your professional goals.
    • Aligning student’s research interests with faculty expertise can be based on a topic, question, population, or type of research method used. Assuming that your ideas would develop and become refined in a PhD program, which researcher(s) at UW–Madison School of Nursing can you imagine yourself working with and why?
    • Describe characteristics you are looking for in a faculty advisor and mentor?

The Early Entry PhD Option is an innovative program designed for undergraduate students interested in pursuing a research career.

With the assistance of a faculty advisory committee, early-entry students plan an individualized program of study and research. They draw on existing undergraduate and graduate courses in nursing and related disciplines. This option includes early and intensive research training, clinical practice, and required and recommended coursework.

Two degrees are awarded to students who complete this option:

  1. a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), granted by the UW–Madison School of Nursing
  2. a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), granted by the UW–Madison Graduate School

Connect with Us

If you have questions, would like to discuss visit options, or want to be connected with faculty members, please contact us. We are happy to arrange connections with current students as well. They can often provide special insight into the program, academic services, and life at the University and in Madison.

Kristine L. Kwekkeboom, PhD, RN, FAAN

Position title: Professor, Lillian S. Moehlman Bascom Professor in Nursing and PhD Program Director


Phone: 608-263-5168