PhD in Nursing Science Program

Program Overview

Our nursing science program is a research-focused doctoral education program that grants the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree. Our program is offered in an online/distance format. It is designed to prepare scholars for research and academic careers in major universities and for research positions in public or private sectors of health care.

Two tracks of study are available: Clinical Research and Health Services Research. These areas of study are reflective of the overall research interests and expertise of School of Nursing faculty members and the rich resources available in the Vanderbilt community.

Faculty research interests include stress and coping, health promotion, oncology, pediatric palliative care, impact of chronic conditions on individuals and families, health psychology/behavioral medicine, life transitions, symptom management, and development of assessment tools. Health services research topics include outcomes measurement and interventions, workforce policy, and economic aspects of health care delivery.

Course work is delivered using Internet supported technology with limited on-campus visits. Courses are taught using a combination of:

  • Concentrated on-campus blocks (i.e., intensives) three times per academic year for no more than 20 days total (4-5 days each visit).
  • Synchronous and asynchronous delivery methods. Synchronous classes (i.e., required same time sessions) are held weekly.

We embrace a student-centered approach with flexible learning strategies and the use of technology to maintain close scholarly interactions. Students work with faculty mentors who guide and oversee their educational program from admission through completion of degree requirements. They participate in intensive research experiences connected with faculty research projects and are exposed to a variety of research designs and analytic techniques.

Requirements for the degree include successful completion of advanced course work, a qualifying examination paper, an oral qualifying examination, and dissertation (including oral defense of the proposal and findings). Full-time and part-time options are available.

PhD Webinar Schedule for 2019-2020

Our webinars include information concerning overview of the PhD in Nursing Science Program, program format, application process and components and funding. View a previously recorded webinar (September 10, 2019).


The PhD in Nursing Science Program offers two study tracks:

  • Clinical Research
    PhD in Nursing Science Clinical Research Track. The ultimate goal of clinical research is to identify treatments that protect or improve health. These treatments may involve physical (e.g. chemical agents, surgery, body part manipulation), psychological (e.g., behavior therapy, Internet supported reminders) and/or educational therapies. Questions are built around describing the nature and extent of the clinical problem, understanding its cause and testing alternative treatments. Investigations may include research about psychological, physiological and genetic determinants. Clinical research ultimately leads to improvements in outcomes such as morbidity, mortality, symptom management, self-care and life adjustments.

The clinical research track curriculum emphasizes:

  1. The measurement of physiological and psychological variables
  2. Application and development of physiological and psychological theories and models
  3. The execution of rigorous clinical designs. Click here for examples of clinical research questions

  • Health Services Research
    PhD in Nursing Science Health Services Research Track. Health services research concerns the design of systems to deliver treatments that clinical research has identified to maximize access, minimize costs and achieve patient-centeredness. Questions revolve around the effects of where, when, who and how health services are delivered on outcomes which extend beyond the clinical to the economic (e.g. cost of care, societal costs) and/or consumer centeredness (e.g. patient satisfaction). This research endeavors to answer questions regarding the effects current and proposed legal, social and economic policies may have on delivery systems.

The curriculum emphasizes grounding in:

  1. The measurement of work force, work processes, organizational variables, economic indicators and consumer preferences
  2. Organizational, economic and social models
  3. The execution of rigorous designs that may entail using existing big data, accounting for leveling issues and determining complex treatment fidelity and risk adjustment strategies
  4. Issues in policymaking. This track emphasizes the discovery of health services interventions rather than the application of known interventions. Applicants interested in applying and/or disseminating interventions that have been demonstrated to improve quality and safety should explore the DNP program. Click here for examples of health services research questions