Frequently asked questions about the UVA Nursing PhD program


What are the differences between the PhD and DNP Programs?

The PhD program prepares the nurse scholar at the highest level to conduct research that advances nursing theory and practice. The program is designed to prepare nurses for careers as research scientists, often in academic positions where they conduct research, teach, practice, and engage in service to the discipline. Some nurses with PhDs will seek careers in industry, government and other settings.

The DNP program prepares nurses to achieve the highest level of nursing practice. DNP-prepared nurses are prepared to take the lead in healthcare delivery-related evidence-based practice projects and often become teaching faculty in schools of nursing.

See the DNP and PhD Comparison page for a side-by-side comparison of the DNP vs PhD programs.

DNP and PhD Comparison

What if I don’t have a specific area of nursing research interest yet?

Your specific area of research interest does not need to be perfectly conceptualized in order to apply for a doctoral program. You should, however, have a general focus of research interest in order to find appropriate mentorship. 

How does the PhD application process work?

In our program, a PhD admissions committee is convened to review all submitted applications. We use a holistic admissions process that includes the applicants’ potential and experiences as well as their previous grades.  In addition to looking for scholars committed to nursing science, we seek to admit students whose scholarly interests are congruent with those of our faculty. As a result, individual faculty also play a role in determining which students are accepted into the PhD program. Students who are scored highly and whose scholarly interests are congruent with our faculty will be invited for an interview with one or more faculty members.

What if I'm Interested in Applying for Admission this fall?

All applicants for the PhD possess a BSN.  Many also possess an MSN, and nurses with other graduate degrees (MPH, MBA, MS in Health Administration, etc.) are also encouraged to apply.

If you are applying to the UVA School of Nursing PhD program, you should be aware that the following tenured and tenure-track faculty are eligible to accept students:

Research Faculty

If you are interested in the research conducted by these faculty, we encourage you to reach out to them via email.

Why Should I Email Faculty?

Although contacting a faculty member in your research is not required, it is encouraged for these reasons:

  • You can confirm that they are will be accepting new students. Information about this may be on the faculty member's profile page, but it's worth double-checking with an email.
  • It is an opportunity to become familiar with researchers in your area of interest and to ask questions not addressed on the school's website.
  • Faculty are much more likely to want to interview you if you’ve contacted them in advance and your research interests overlap.
  • You may learn more about the current research priority area for that faculty member. Sometimes faculty research areas change over time.

How can I improve my application?

No matter what your situation, we recommend having a faculty mentor(s) review all your application materials, with a particular focus on your application essay and CV. We also recommend that you carefully consider the three letters of reference. Try to select writers who can speak to your potential as a researcher and/or who can comment on your research experience.  The strongest letters are written by nurses or other professionals who are engaged in research or who are at least doctorally-prepared.   

How long does it take to complete the PhD program?

The time needed to complete the program varies, depending on how fast you progress. Three years is the minimum and seven the maximum. Most of our students finish in about four years. The first two years are coursework. The remaining time is mostly devoted to dissertation research and writing. 

Can I complete the PhD program online or part time?

Our program uses traditional, face-to-face instruction. All funded students are required to be full time. 

How many students are accepting to the PhD program at UVA each year?

The number varies, but we typically accept about 8 students into the PhD program each year.