PhD in Nursing Science Program

Spotlight on Our Students

The PhD in Nursing Science Program at Vanderbilt is committed to academic excellence. We prepare our students for intellectually rewarding academic and research careers. Our students engage in a variety of scholarly activities and collaborate with faculty in nursing and other disciplines. Through mentorship and collaboration, our students learn critical skills and gain the knowledge they need for a successful and productive career in nursing.


Jane Abanes, DNP, PMHCNS, PMHNP-BC

Yuma, AZ
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Bethany Rhoten and Dr. Sheila Ridner

Jane Abanes

My name is Jane Abanes, and I have been a Navy nurse for 13 years. I am currently stationed in Yuma, Arizona as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. I am passionate about the mental health of our service members, particularly those who have been exposed to combat during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a clinician, I found that conventional treatments are at times inadequate in the treatment of combat-related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Specifically, I would like to investigate the impact of Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM) among those who suffer from PTSD. Through my clinical training and education at the University of Southern California (USC) and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and my Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree from Vanderbilt University, I am prepared to treat the whole person, evaluate the research literature, and challenge the systems that influence individuals. Based on my experience as a DNP graduate from Vanderbilt, I became interested in pursuing a PhD degree. The School of Nursing’s (SON) outstanding faculty and dedicated mentors supported students like me who have the aspirations to generate and disseminate new knowledge in the field of nursing. I believe that the SON’s inspiring cadre of professors is an invaluable asset in maintaining the rigor of their PhD in Nursing Science program – surely, there was no other match for me but Vanderbilt.


P.J. Ambrefe, MSN, RN, FNP-C

Nashville, TN 
Track: Clinical Research 
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Sharon Karp 

PJ Ambrefe

My name is PJ Ambrefe. I have lived in Nashville for the last 12 years, but I am originally from the North Shore in Boston, MA. I began my nursing career at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on the Neurological ICU. Through my master’s education, I became aware of my strong desire to work with pediatric populations and took an opportunity to work as a family nurse practitioner at a pediatric primary care clinic. This experience helped me understand my passion to research school-age obesity and its many factors. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University to research factors contributing to childhood obesity as well as potential interventions targeted at decreasing rates in school-aged children. I chose to study at Vanderbilt because of its commitment to excellence. Their focus on rigorous research, combined with faculty experts in my area of interest, was a great draw for me. I am proud to be a part of the Vanderbilt community, and am looking forward to how this program will shape and refine my research skills.


Alison Anderson, MSN, ANP-BC, NP-C

Nashville, TN
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Jie Deng and Dr. Sheila Ridner

Alison Anderson

My name is Alison Anderson. I graduated from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in 2005. I am dual-board certified as an Adult Nurse Practitioner by the ANCC and the AANP. I have practiced in a variety of settings, with the majority of my work experience involving treating patients with painful conditions. I currently work with a specialist seeing complicated patients with fibromyalgia and rheumatological conditions. I also serve as an expert witness on over-prescribing cases for the State of Tennessee. Due to my personal interests and studies, as well as my current patient population, I have chosen to pursue a PhD at Vanderbilt University using brain imaging to study psychophysics of pain in dementia and Alzheimer's disease.  


Jessie Sellers, RN, MSN, AGPCNP-BC

Nashville, TN
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Sheila Ridner

Jessie Sellers

I am a Georgia native, but I have lived in Nashville for the past 4 years. During this time, I completed Vanderbilt School of Nursing’s MSN program as a pre-specialty student and worked as a research assistant for a supportive cancer care study through the School of Nursing. I am a certified Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, and I work in an outpatient neurology setting with a cognitive and movement disorders team concomitant to my PhD studies. My specific research interest area includes quality of life and identification and treatment of neuropsychiatric symptoms in Huntington’s Disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder. My previous experience at Vanderbilt School of Nursing is largely what influenced my decision to pursue my PhD at Vanderbilt. As a top-ranked graduate nursing school with incredible faculty and resources, VUSN is dedicated to developing the next generation of nurse scientists and leaders. I am so pleased to be continuing my education at VUSN.


Christina (De Luca) Vera, APRN, DNP, CRNA

Pinecrest, FL
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Betsy Weiner

Christina Vera

My name is Christina Vera and I am Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist in Miami, FL. I have been afforded the wonderful opportunity to practice at a major university hospital for the last seven years where I have gained valuable experience in providing anesthetic care for patients with complicated illnesses undergoing complex surgical procedures. At this institution, I have worked closely mentoring student nurse anesthetists, which is something I have become very passionate. I was subsequently led to join the university faculty in instructing both didactic courses and conducting high-fidelity simulation training for the future generation of nurse anesthetists. I am also fortunate to own an anesthesia company with my husband, also a nurse anesthetist, which has enabled me to provide office-based anesthesia care for both adult and pediatric surgical patients in a variety of settings, such as, surgery centers and private practice offices.

I obtained my Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2015 and have since published and presented posters at state and national anesthesia conferences related to my capstone project, in addition to other topics. It was during my endeavors in seeking my clinical doctorate degree that my interest had peaked in desiring to contribute to the area of nursing research. I noted a deficit in office-based anesthesia research that I have since felt inclined to address. My area of interest is on patient safety in the office-based surgical setting, with a focus on blood loss and fluid management strategies. I hope to incorporate high-fidelity simulation, another passion of mine, in my research. I chose Vanderbilt University because of its diverse faculty, renowned reputation, and continual commitment to nursing research.