The goal of the Ph.D. program in nursing is to prepare nurse scientists who will advance health and health care through discovery and extension of knowledge in biobehavioral and health care quality research.

Student learning outcomes

Graduates will be able to:

  1. Apply, transmit and generate knowledge in the discipline of nursing
  2. Construct, test and modify theories for nursing in the context of social, ethical, scientific, cultural and economic influences
  3. Analyze and synthesize knowledge from related disciplines for use in nursing
  4. Exhibit scientific integrity in the design and conduct of scholarly inquiry
  5. Engage in interdisciplinary collaboration in knowledge development and dissemination

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university. These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on academic regulations for graduate students.

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on degree candidacy requirements.

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on graduation requirements.

Other information

VCU School of Nursing Student Policy and Information handbooks are located on the school’s website.

Our international and non-native English-speaking students bring different perspectives and new thinking to our nursing programs. To ensure that all incoming student are prepared for the school’s academic rigor, all international applicants and non-native English speaking applicants without a degree from a U.S. high school, college or university must provide additional information with their applications according to the English language proficiency guidelines on the program admission tab.

Visit the School of Nursing website for application instructions.

Admission requirements

Degree: Semester(s) of entry: Deadline dates: Test requirements:
Ph.D. Fall, odd years (part-time students) Feb 1 GRE
Fall, even years (full and part-time students) Note: Applications may be accepted after the deadline on a space-available basis.

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School, applicants must present:

  1. Both a baccalaureate and a master’s degree, one of which must be in nursing (The degree in nursing must be from an ACEN-, CCNE- or CNEA-accredited school. Graduates of international nursing schools and applicants who have studied outside of the U.S. are required to provide a course-by-course external credential evaluation from a VCU-recognized professional evaluator. The professional evaluation may not be older than two years at the time of application.)
  2. Graduate Record Exam score
  3. Three-credit statistics course with a minimum grade of B
  4. A current, unrestricted R.N. license or an authorization to practice as an R.N. in Virginia, the District of Columbia or a U.S. possession or territory (Graduates of international nursing schools who are not licensed in a state, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. possession or territory are required to obtain a VisaScreen Certificate issued by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools.)
  5. If not a native speaker, provide proof of English language proficiency by submitting one of the following test scores (taken within 24 months of the time of application):
    1. TOEFL score of 100 iBT with minimum subsection scores as noted
      1. Reading – 22
      2. Listening – 22
      3. Speaking – 26
      4. Writing – 24
    2. IELTS score of 7.5 overall band


Applicants must complete and submit the following materials:

  1. An application for graduate studies (Visit the School of Nursing website for application instructions.)
  2. Official transcripts from all previous universities and colleges attended for all graduate and undergraduate work
  3. Official GRE score report
  4. A typed personal statement, thoughtfully and scholarly answering the following questions:
    1. What are your career goals, and how do you see this doctoral program contributing to meeting them?
    2. Within your particular area of interest, identify some problems you see as offering promise for research.
    3. What particular strengths do you believe you bring to this program that would enrich the learning environment of your peers?
    4. What do you perceive as major contemporary issues in nursing, and what are your views on at least one of them?
    5. Identify one or two potential advisers from the School of Nursing Ph.D. faculty who may be a good match for your research interests, and provide a rationale for your choice.
  5. A resume that includes name and address, past educational degrees, past work experiences, professional affiliations, certifications, honors and awards, presentations, and publications
  6. References from three persons who can knowledgeably comment upon applicant’s ability to succeed in an academic program (e.g., former faculty) or who can evaluate applicant’s ability to be successful in nursing research (Avoid references from ministers or others who are not familiar with professional and academic abilities; from friends, either professional or personal; or from personal health care providers.)


Note: A personal interview is required.

Degree requirements

A minimum of 61 graduate credit hours are required for the Ph.D. in Nursing program.

In addition to general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, a candidate for the doctoral degree in nursing must be recommended by the faculty and must:

  1. Meet academic requirements of the Graduate School
  2. Complete all requirements for the prescribed curriculum within eight calendar years of the first registration for work to be credited toward the degree
  3. Earn a minimum grade of B or pass grade in all nursing courses
  4. Earn a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale in all work presented for graduation
  5. Conform to School of Nursing policies in respect to pass/fail grading for course work or thesis study

The degree will be granted only after all requirements have been fulfilled, all fees to the university have been paid and electronic copies of the dissertation have been submitted. Degrees are not granted in absentia unless written request is made to the dean and permission is granted.

Curriculum requirements

Core courses

NURS 703Philosophy of Human Sciences3
NURS 704Analysis and Construction of Theory for Nursing Research3
Total Hours6

Research methods and statistics

NURS 700Scientific Integrity: Responsible Conduct of Research1
NURS 701Statistical Methods for Nursing Research3
NURS 702Advanced Statistical Concepts for Nursing Research3
NURS 770Quantitative Research3
NURS 772Qualitative Research4
NURS 773Perspectives on Research Design3
Total Hours17

Focus of inquiry

Students are required to choose and complete focus of inquiry area.15
Focus of inquiry: Biobehavioral
Foundations of Biobehavioral Research
Advanced Concepts in Biobehavioral Research
Synthesis and Emerging Trends in Scientific Inquiry
Electives: Select six credits from courses designed to support the area of study (see below)
Focus of inquiry: Quality and safety
Health Information and Data Management
Health Policy Leadership and Advocacy
Synthesis and Emerging Trends in Scientific Inquiry
Foundations in Health Care Quality Research
Advanced Concepts in Health Care Quality Research
Total Hours15

Research training

NURS 776Research Program Development Seminar I2
NURS 777Research Program Development Seminar II2
NURS 778Research Program Development Seminar III2
NURS 796Directed Research Experience2
or NURS 792 Directed Research Inquiry
NURS 797Practicum in Nursing Research3
Total Hours11

Dissertation

NURS 898Dissertation12
Total Hours12

Total graduate credit hours required (minimum) 61

Electives

Select courses designed to support the area of study.

NEXus cluster courses:
NEXS 600 - 615 (consult with adviser for appropriate courses)
NURS 791Special Topics3-6
NURS 792Directed Research Inquiry1-6
NURS 796Directed Research Experience2-9
Other courses approved by your adviser

Comprehensive examination requirements

The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to test synthesis of foundational knowledge in preparation for launching a program of scholarship as a beginning scientist. Three knowledge domains are critical: a) theory and philosophy, b) qualitative and c) quantitative methodological approaches. The student’s area of study is incorporated into these three domains. The comprehensive exam consists of two components, a written and an oral component, both of which must be passed. The oral exam will be conducted with the student either in person or via video conference.

Dissertation requirements

The student must conduct a substantial independent investigation and prepare a dissertation reporting the results of this research and analyzing its significance in relation to existing scientific knowledge. Satisfactory completion of the comprehensive examination and a satisfactory oral defense of the dissertation proposal are required prior to commencement of actual work outlined in the proposal. Once approved, the dissertation proposal is similar to a formal contract between the student and dissertation committee about the nature of the dissertation.

The dissertation committee must consist of a minimum of four members. A member of the graduate faculty of the School of Nursing who has an established program of research and prior experience on dissertation committees must chair a student’s dissertation committee. Other committee members must include one faculty member from the student’s focus area and one member from outside the School of Nursing. The dissertation committee is approved by the associate dean for academic programs in the School of Nursing. An oral defense of the dissertation is conducted by the student’s dissertation committee. The student is responsible for preparing the dissertation in accordance with the most current version of the Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Manual

Program director
Jo Lynne W. Robins, Ph.D, ANP-BC, CHTP, AHN-C
Associate professor, Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems
Email: jwrobins@vcu.edu
Phone: (804) 828-0776

Additional contact
Fonda Neal
Educational program coordinator for doctoral programs
Email: fneal@vcu.edu
Phone: (804) 828-0836                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Program website: nursing.vcu.edu/programs/phd