Ph.D. Program Info

UMSN PhD studentPh.D. program focus

The University of Michigan School of Nursing Ph.D. program, which began in 1975, produces leading scientists who advance knowledge for the discipline of nursing and the health sciences.

The program is predicated on a strong foundation of clinical expertise framed by a nursing perspective; education at the doctoral level builds upon and extends content acquired at the baccalaureate and master’s levels and emphasizes theory development and research skills.

Our graduates are clinically proficient and have advanced preparation in nursing and related sciences, as well as in research methods and data analysis.

As a student at the School of Nursing, you can take advantage of all of the disciplinary strengths of the University of Michigan. Our students have the opportunity to study physiological, psychological, and socio-cultural variables, alone or in combination, as they influence health outcomes supported by strong interdisciplinary methods and teamwork.

Meet our current Ph.D. students and recent graduates.

The U-M School of Nursing Hillman Scholar’s Program in Nursing Innovation has prepared 12 nurse scientists since its inception. Our Hillman Scholars started out in the BSN program and completed the Ph.D. immediately afterwards, leading to a longer and more productive research trajectory. Meet our Hillman graduates.

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Find a faculty mentor to help you towards your goals.

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Apply for the Ph.D.

The Ph.D. program is open to post-baccalaureate or post-master’s applicants. See the application requirements for this program.

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The curriculum

In order to meet the diverse needs of the field of nursing and the goals of the student, the course of study provides flexibility. The program prepares nurses who are competent in research design, data analysis and inferential processes, and thus capable of pursuing research related to the delivery of patient care and developing theory oriented toward the application of nursing practice.

The Ph.D. Program curriculum requires completion of coursework (42 credits), dissertation research (minimum 8 credits per term) and apprentice hours. The two broad areas of coursework are Statistics and Methods and Substantive Research Focus. Students without practice experience are required to take an additional praxis course. This course facilitates learning about how practice informs science, and students gain skills that help them to lead successful multidisciplinary research teams in the future.

The flexible curriculum aligns with American Academy of Collegiate Nursing Core Competencies for Ph.D. education. All Ph.D. curricular components are aligned with 13 core competencies to ensure that our graduates demonstrate competence in all phases of research/scientific methods, in-depth knowledge in a substantive area of science, and capacity to conduct research that is grounded in theory, practice and policy. After completing the required coursework, students complete a preliminary/candidacy exam and proposal defense.

Students attend several seminars that provide opportunities for student-student networking and mentorship across cohorts. These seminars are designed to orient students to academic culture and program expectations, establish strong mentor/mentee relationships, introduce students to numerous researchers/labs, and provide early access to resources that will foster their success at the beginning of their academic journey and beyond. The Peer Seminar (mandatory attendance required) is student-led and attended by students from all admission cohorts. It provides opportunities for peer review of scientific products, student-student mentorship and leadership training. The Research and Professional Development Seminar is attended by all first-year Ph.D. students and facilitates skill building in areas that foster academic success (e.g., CV development, scientific writing, public speaking, peer-review, leadership). These seminars foster strong mentor/mentee relationships; reduce anxiety, misinformation and misdirection; increase student retention and satisfaction; and foster steady progression to degree. The following quote highlights some of the major strengths of our program.

“UMSN's program is wonderful in many ways: We receive excellent and rigorous training, we are socialized as and have access to a community of leading nurse scientists, we are generously funded, and the program is highly efficient (full time and designed to complete in three to four years) for the motivated student.”  

– Elizabeth Umberfield, Ph.D., U-M School of Nursing Graduate

Core competencies

Graduates will be prepared as scientific scholars and stewards of the discipline. Upon completion of the program, graduates will be able to:

Scientific scholar

  • Critically evaluate and synthesize the scientific literature to formulate new research questions to address gaps in current knowledge.
  • Demonstrate mastery of study designs and ability to select a design that is appropriate to address specific aims.
  • Demonstrate a thorough understanding of causal inference, sources of bias and methods that can improve the rigor of research. 
  • Understand key quantitative and qualitative analysis processes, principles and methods of measurement, data collection and data management in the design and conduct of research.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of methods and processes of theory development and application.
  • Demonstrate mastery of scientific knowledge in a substantive research area.
  • Routinely guide themselves by diversity, equity and inclusion principles in scholarship and research.

Stewards of the discipline

  • Understand the historic, philosophic and theoretical foundations, contemporary issues and trends for nursing science.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the evolving discipline of nursing science and the integration of theory, practice and policy. Articulate the contributions of nursing science for improvement of health and health care.
  • Utilize professional and research ethics and judgment in the conduct of research.
  • Show evidence of excellent written and oral communication in all aspects of the research process with articulation of implications for practice, public policy and future research.
  • Participate in, engages with and begin to lead interdisciplinary teams.

 Program plan options

Students may elect to enroll as full-time students based on either a three-year (accelerated) or four-year (traditional) program plan. Students are required to enroll in three terms per year. These three- and four-year, full-time program plans are outlined below, and course descriptions and objectives can be found in the Curriculum Toolkit.

Please see table 1 for comparisons of the program plans.

 Table 1: Ph.D. program plan comparisons


Accelerated Program Plan

Traditional Program Plan

Time to degree

3 years

4 years

Full or part time

Full time

Full time

Credit requirements

42 plus minimum of 8 dissertation credits

42 plus minimum of 8 dissertation credits

Course requirements

Per approved program plan

Per approved program plan

Candidacy target

Winter year 2 (2 years)

Winter year 2 (2 years)

Proposal defense target

Spring/summer year 2

Fall year 3

Apprenticeship hours

20 hours/week over 9 terms

Equivalent to 20 hours/week/9 terms, but spaced out over 12 terms


Fully funded

Fully Funded


Accelerated Program Plan

Traditional Program Plan


Admitted applicants who plan to enroll in the three-year or four-year programs will receive a funding package that covers tuition costs, a monthly stipend and health insurance. The same funding package is available for full-time international students if the applicant’s country of origin does not provide funding.

Tables 2A, 2B, 3A and 3B below outline the funding packages available to students who elect a three- or four-year, full-time program plan beginning in the fall of 2021. Based on projections, the funding packages are estimated to be worth:

•           $178,700 for an in-state resident in the accelerated three-year program.

•           $237,390 for an out-of-state non-resident in the accelerated three-year program.

•           $221,530 for an in-state resident in the traditional four-year program.

•           $275,930 for an out-of-state non-resident in the traditional four-year program.

Tables 2A and 2B. Accelerated Ph.D. Program Plan (3 Year)
2A: In-State (Michigan Resident) 2B: Out-of-State (Non-Michigan Resident)
Academic YearTuition SupportStipendBenefits Total Academic YearTuition SupportStipendBenefits Total
Year 1 (2021-2022)$36,240$25,830$3,800$65,870 Year 1 (2021-2022)$72,430$25,830$3,800$102,060
Year 2 (2022-2023)$29,560$26,340$3,910$59,810 Year 2 (2022-2023)$52,060$26,340$3,910$82,310
Year 3 (2023-2024)$22,110$26,880$4,030$53,020 Year 3 (2023-2024)$22,110$26,880$4,030$53,020
3 Year Total$87,910$79,050$11,740$178,700 3 Year Total$146,600$79,050$11,740$237,390


Tables 3A and 3B Traditional Ph.D. Program Plan (4 Year)
3A: In-State (Michigan Resident) 3B: Out-of-State (Non-Michigan Resident)
Academic YearTuition SupportStipendBenefits Total Academic YearTuition SupportStipendBenefits Total
Year 1 (2021-2022)$32,090$25,830$3,800$61,720 Year 1 (2021-2022)$63,940$25,310$3,800$93,570
Year 2 (2022-2023)$28,140$26,340$3,910$58,390 Year 2 (2022-2023)$49,140$25,830$3,910$79,390
Year 3 (2023-2024)$16,200$26,880$4,030$47,110 Year 3 (2023-2024)$17,750$26,340$4,030$48,660
Year 4 (2024-2025)$22,740$27,420$4,150$54,310 Year 4 (2024-2025)$22,740$27,420$4,150$54,310
4 Year Total$99,170$106,470$15,890$221,530 4 Year Total$153,570$106,470$15,890$275,930

Our Office of Business and Financial Aid is available to answer questions about program costs at In addition, students may visit the registrar’s office website for current tuition rates.

Dissertation grants

All Ph.D. students are eligible to apply for dissertation grants from the Rackham Graduate School and UMSN. Grant awards typically range from $3,000 to $6,000. Students use the funding to offset the costs associated with their dissertation research (e.g., subject incentives, equipment and materials, computer software, publication fees). Students may also compete for other grants designed to support their scholarship. 


Ph.D. students at UMSN work hard. Full-time students should consider their responsibilities like a full-time job that requires approximately 40 hours per week of dedicated investment. However, we strongly value and support a satisfactory work-life balance for students with diverse backgrounds and personal lives — our students are successful regardless of who they are or what they like to do. For example, our students represent those who are:

  • Novice or experienced nurses.
  • BSN-prepared or already have earned a graduate degree.
  • Parents, married, partnered or single.
  • Accomplished athletes.
  • Musicians or artists.
  • Members of an underrepresented minority community.
  • Living in Ann Arbor or commuting regularly.
  • Clinically active (limited to eight to ten hours per week)
  • Graduates of UMSN or other domestic or international universities.

Students interact and socialize with fellow cohorts and take advantage of the university’s vast extracurricular opportunities such as recreational sports, faith-based organizations, and musical groups, among others. Established students who “know the ropes” welcome the new students and encourage their new peers to stay connected via Facebook and other social media venues. Here’s what our Ph.D. students say about their work-life balance.

"The Ph.D. program is a whole new experience and requires adjustment to achieve a healthy work-life balance no matter who and where you are. However, the U-M School of Nursing Ph.D. community is special because we truly care about, support and mentor one another. Students find ways to connect, whether over the enjoyment of coffee, happy hours, or sports and outdoor activities. The Rackham Graduate School also shows a clear commitment to promoting students' well-being by providing various campus social events for all the graduate students throughout the year. During the Ph.D. program, I have served regularly at my church, played intramural sports, clinically practiced biweekly, and spent time with my family and friends."

– Grace Kanzawa-Lee, Ph.D., RN, Class of 2020

“We have a tradition of celebrating each other's accomplishments together. Several students have hosted writing retreats and get-togethers in their homes, and groups of students get together for IM sports and trivia nights.”

–  Elizabeth Umberfield, Ph.D., RN, Class of 2020

"I like to train for triathlons and practice yoga after I finish classes and research for the day. I'm able to find time for exercise with thoughtful time management. My mentor and other faculty members care about my work-life balance as well. They emphasize that wellness is a priority during graduate school."

– Alex Fauer, Ph.D., RN, Class of 2020


Perhaps more than with other degree programs, excellent Ph.D. programs rely on apprenticeship-based teaching and learning methods. Academic success in Ph.D. programs is not only an outcome of hard work, but outstanding mentoring is also a key to success. Because our faculty take mentoring very seriously, we created the Collaboration for Leadership and Innovation in Mentorship (CLIM) Program. The CLIM program targets four key domains of effective Ph.D. mentorship: 1. Mentor-mentee fit, 2. Individual training plans, 3.Multi-mentor teams and 4. Mutual benefit.

Mentor-mentee fit: Upon admission to our program, we match our students with dedicated mentors who have experience working with doctoral students, compatible personalities and work styles, and deep scientific expertise in areas related to the student’s scientific interests. Starting with the application process, applicants and potential mentors meet to initially assess work style, personality and scientific compatibility. Because optimal mentor-mentee matching is critical to the success of the dyad, we do not admit students who do not have an acceptable mentor match.

Individual training plans: Once a student has been matched with an ideal primary mentor, the pair works closely together to set mutually agreed-upon goals. The pair will attend training programs that assist the dyad to build a productive and mutually respectful relationship; develop, monitor and readjust (as needed) an individual training plan (IDP); consider multiple career options; and celebrate success. The primary mentor provides intensive one-on-one support to their mentee throughout the program and typically becomes a lifelong mentor.

Multi-mentor teams: Further, our Ph.D. students become members of large and productive research teams. Through these connections, students gain additional experience through engagement in broader research activities and learn about “team science.” This engagement facilitates support from a multi-mentor team of diverse scientific experts not only from within the University of Michigan, but also from national and international research networks. The following student quotes illustrate the depth of these phenomenal research-intensive experiences.

“I am grateful for opportunities presented throughout the nursing Ph.D. program to collaborate with researchers from the schools of Medicine, Public Health, Law and Business. I welcomed the chance to develop effective cross-cultural teams with students and professors in Zambia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Brazil. We maintain these diverse team relationships, and I am confident they will lead to many more fruitful international research endeavors in the future.”

– Dr. Julie Buser, Class of 2018

"As part of a multi-mentor team, I had the opportunity to conduct research at other universities and to work with well-known leaders in my area of research. Through this collaboration, I was able to study and publish with some of the top researchers in my field at both the national and international level."

– Dr. Monica Wagner, Class of 2017

Mutual benefit: The student and mentor work together throughout the program, and the outcome of this relationship is mutually beneficial. Students and mentors learn from each other. Mentors pass along their experience and scientific knowledge, provide opportunities for exploration and professional development, facilitate connections with key leaders in the field, and provide career coaching. Students can teach their mentors about contemporary research topics and methods, and provide valuable hands-on support as research and teaching assistants. As coauthors on papers, abstracts and grants, the mentor-mentee team advance the science more quickly. Lastly, faculty promotion and tenure is supported by this enhanced productivity, and the student is better positioned to move into postdoctoral fellowships or other competitive career opportunities.


We know that being a Ph.D. student can be stressful at times, and we have services in place to help with that. UMSN has an embedded staff clinician from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The CAPS counselor provides students with free and confidential short-term counseling to help address and overcome personal and interpersonal difficulties that interfere with the pursuit of academic and career objectives. Common concerns that CAPS staff work with students about include self-esteem, academic difficulties, test anxieties, stress, problems with relationships, sexuality, anxiety, depression, insomnia, substance abuse, suicide, and others. CAPS services are free, confidential and available to currently enrolled students. Services include: brief counseling for individuals, couples and groups; consultation to students, faculty, staff and parents; assistance with referrals to community resources; and crisis interventions.

Additional opportunities

Our Ph.D. students not only complete course work; students complete a variety of academic products that build scholarship and team collaboration skills. Our faculty assist students to write scholarly papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Student serve as first and coauthors on papers and abstracts; these student-authored publications demonstrate strong potential for future academic productivity as future scientists. Our students present their work at local, regional, national and international scientific conferences. All students write and submit a training grant and contribute to the submission of their mentor’s grants. Because of their scholarly productivity, our students are highly competitive applicants for a variety of career opportunities following graduation.

Clinical practice

Many Ph.D. students want to maintain their clinical practice expertise while in our program. Full-time students can chose to work a maximum of eight to ten hours per week at an outside clinical job.

BSN-Ph.D. students who have less than six months of clinical practice experience can participate in our Clinical Fellowship Program. Beginning the summer prior to starting the Ph.D. program, we work with the University of Michigan hospital system to place board-certified RNs in staff nurse positions. Following a full orientation, RNs work 40 hours per week on an inpatient unit that aligns with their interests. Students decrease their work hours to eight to ten hours per week upon starting the Ph.D. program in the fall.

Career opportunities

Once students obtain their Ph.D., many new career opportunities will become available. However, it is not always easy to decide on the best path. Our faculty mentors provide guidance based on what they have learned over time about their students’ unique talents. Faculty alumni frequently give seminar presentations that provide real-world perspectives about the job market for Ph.D.-prepared nurses. Further, the Rackham Graduate School has many resources to help emerging graduates find their way.

Informed by their dreams and talents, students can achieve their career goals with help from UMSN faculty. Our students are prepared to continue their research training as postdoctoral fellows. For example, some of our graduates have accepted fellowship positions at very prestigious universities (e.g., Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California-Los Angeles, University of Pittsburgh). Others have been immediately hired into faculty positions at research- and teaching-intensive universities. Several graduates have taken high-level leadership positions as directors of nursing at large academic medical centers and become leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Nursing, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, just as a few examples.