The VCU School of Nursing Doctor of Philosophy program in nursing prepares scholars to develop knowledge in the discipline of nursing to become teacher-scholars or pioneering researchers committed to the highest ideals of nursing excellence. The program examines knowledge development in nursing through an understanding of the impact of a wide range of historical influences on the discipline and through analysis of how emerging societal issues influence knowledge development. Knowledge in the humanities and social sciences and an understanding of knowledge development in other disciplines is viewed as foundational to a full understanding of knowledge development in nursing. Methodologic competency (i.e., knowledge of research designs, methodologies and tools) is also essential to a full understanding of the scope, range and path of knowledge development and the relevance to nursing practice.

The online Ph.D. program includes a combination of online courses and on-campus immersions to offer students a dynamic, interactive learning experience that will prepare them to become nurse scholars and scientists. This format is designed to expand the Ph.D. program’s reach to a wider range of highly motivated, independent students who aspire to become scholars, make a significant difference in the field of nursing and study with nationally recognized nurse scientists.

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.

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 1GRE
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 Nursing Models and Theories3
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 Research Design3
NURS   772Qualitative Research Design and Analysis4
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 Clinical Research
Biobehavioral Measures in Clinical Research
Emerging Trends and Areas of 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
Emerging Trends and Areas of Scientific Inquiry
Quality and Safety Foundations
Quality and Safety Measures
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   797Directed Research Practicum3
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

Ph.D. program director
Jo Lynne W. Robins, Ph.D., RN
Associate professor, Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems
Email: jwrobins@vcu.edu
Phone: (804) 828-0776

Additional contact
Susan L. Lipp, RN
Assistant dean for enrollment and student services
Email: vcu_nurse@vcu.edu
Phone: (804) 828-5171

Fonda Neal
Ph.D. program coordinator
Email: fneal@vcu.edu
Phone: (804) 828-0836

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