Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD)

With the need for nursing academics and researchers never greater, UVA's PhD program offers an exceptional route for the next generation of nurse scientists and scholars

  • 49 credits beyond a master's degree
  • Accelerated (24 months to degree) and non-accelerated (36 months to degree) programs of study available
  • Exceptional development in grant and scholarly writing and conference presentations
  • BSN to PhD program track
  • Full two-year scholarships for admitted students
  • Graduates eligible for loan forgiveness programs if they pursue careers in academia
  • Application deadline: Dec. 15 (for entry the following fall)


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Student voices


Hershaw Davis, Jr., MSN `12, PhD student

"Here, it isn't just good. If you want an excellent nursing education, this is the place for you."

Why UVA Nursing's PhD program brought Associate Dean Linda Bullock to UVA


Who is the PhD in nursing for?
Are you deciding whether a PhD or DNP is the right degree path for you?  Take a look at this comparison of PhD and DNP programs.

The PhD program prepares students for careers as scholars, nurse scientists and academics and to contribute to nursing science, knowledge, theory and practice through systematic inquiry. By graduation, PhD students will:

  • demonstrate advanced knowledge of nursing, related sciences and humanities, and methods of inquiry
  • expand the research base of nursing theory and practice
  • serve the Commonwealth, the nation and the world by addressing major nursing and health care issues in a scholarly manner

While applicants for the PhD most often possess an MSN, nurses with other graduate degrees (MPH, MBA, MS in Health Administration, etc.) are also encouraged to apply.

UVA consistently ranks as one of the top nursing schools in student awards by the National Institutes of Health. Every year, UVA PhD nursing students are awarded F31 training grants (National Research Service Awards) for their doctoral studies, and many publish and present around Virginia, the US and internationally.

UVA's PhD in nursing program is focused on research, and the curriculum includes courses in qualitative, quantitative and historical research. Over the course of the program, all PhD students submit a research proposal for peer review, and many submit proposals to the NIHNR's annual service awards competition.

Because research is such a critical element of the PhD program, we seek to admit students whose own research interests are congruent with those of our faculty.

"The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) represents the highest level of formal education for a career in research and the scholarship of discovery. It prepares scholars for the expression and communication of the knowledge base in the profession. The PhD graduate develops the science, stewards the profession, educates the next generation of nurses, defines its uniqueness, and maintains its professional integrity. In the academic setting, the PhD is the highest academic degree and is required for success as a scientist in the multiple disciplines represented within educational institutions. In the scientific arena within and beyond the Academy, the PhD is the beginning preparation for the development of independence in scientific pursuit. Post-doctoral study is recommended for depth in a field. Attainment of the PhD requires a strong scientific emphasis within the discipline; an understanding of the science of related disciplines and translation science; dissemination of innovations; and interdisciplinary† collaboration. In addition, for the profession to achieve this vision and make the maximum impact on the healthcare system, PhD nursing scientists should reflect society at large.”

-  from The Research-Focused Doctoral Program in Nursing: Pathways to Excellence (AACN, 2011)


Admission requirements

  • Minimum of a baccalaureate degree in nursing from a nationally accredited program, and a minimum "B" average.
  • Transcripts for all post-secondary work.
  • Strong GRE scores (the most competitive applicants score 500 on each GRE section).
  • Three letters of reference that speak to the applicant's ability to pursue doctoral studies (two must be from doctorally-prepared nurse educators and one may be from a current or recent employer).
  • A CV that reflects professional achievements and productivity.
  • An essay (1000 words or fewer) describing the applicant's educational, research and professional goals, including a specific description of the planned focus of study and a researchable topic for development.
  • Current license to practice nursing in the US. All matriculating students who are not active-duty military nurses must have a Virginia RN license before the first day of classes.
  • A recent course in statistics (with software applications).
  • A personal interview with one or more faculty members (conducted in Charlottesville on a Tuesday or Wednesday during the academic year).
  • International applicants have additional requirements.

BSN-to-PhD program: Exceptionally well-qualified registered nurses without a master's degree in nursing may be considered for admission to the doctoral program. If admitted, such students will be required to complete a customized curriculum leading to the MSN in conjunction with doctoral study.

*All applicants are required to take the GRE general test. The School of Nursing accepts GRE scores that are more than five years old. If you have your 'older' scores, you may submit a copy of the Student Report. The institutional code for the University of Virginia is R-5820.

Steps to apply

Those interested in applying to the PhD in nursing program apply through UVA's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), which prefers to receive one package containing the all supporting materials (recommendations, transcripts and scholarly writing). The completed application, the application fee and all supporting data must be received no later than December 15. 

Note: Applications may be accepted after the December 15 deadline on space-available basis. Students are welcome to submit applications before this deadline as the admissions committee makes rolling admissions decisions.


Financial aid

Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) positions

  • All US citizens and permanent residents admitted to the PhD program (whether a Virginia resident or not) are eligible to be awarded two to three years (24 - 36 months) of full scholarship to cover tuition, including summers during that time period. In exchange, all PhD students serve as a GTA.
  • Individuals accepted to the BSN-to-PhD program are provided three years (36 months) of full scholarship in exchange for service as a GTA. The GTA award covers nearly all of the tuition expenses within the accelerated plan.
  • We are able to provide financial assistance to very few international students per cohort.
  • Full-year GTAs earn a modest stipend and receive health insurance, and most positions require at least 10 hours a week of teaching with the option to pick up additional GTA hours (as many as 20 hours per week).
  • Click here for more information.

Loan programs for future nursing faculty

  • The school also offers financial support to students considering full-time faculty positions. With funding from HRSA, doctoral students may borrow funds for their academic expenses (tuition and books) from the school. If you become a full-time faculty member at any accredited institution, up to 85% of the loan (principal and interest) is forgiven. Learn more about the Nurse Faculty Loan Program.
  • Students applying for or enrolled in UVA's PhD or DNP programs may apply for the UVA-administered Future Virginia Nursing Faculty Loan Assistance Repayment Program. Full-time doctoral students are eligible to borrow up to $25,000 per year during the coursework phase of their programs (years 1 and 2 for the PhD), loans that are then cancelled if graduates go on to teach full-time at any public or private nursing education program in Virginia for four years (two years of teaching for each year of loan). The application deadline for this program is May 15.


PhD students do their coursework at one of two paces: those on the accelerated track take classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and usually complete their coursework in 24 months or less. Students in the non-accelerated track take classes one day a week, and usually complete their coursework within 36 months.