PhD Program in Health Practice Research










Complete applications received by February 1 will be considered for all financial awards including:

  • Provost’s Fellowships
  • Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Fellowship
  • Provost’s Transition to PhD Fellowship
  • School of Nursing Dean’s Scholarship Awards
  • School of Nursing Loretta C. Ford Fellowship

Completed applications received after February 1 will be considered for fall admission and School of Nursing financial awards as they are available

Completed applications received after May 1 will be considered for fall admission on a space as available basis


The PhD program in Health Practice Research is designed for Master’s-prepared clinicians who aspire to academic and research leadership roles within health care and educational settings. The aim of the program is to build knowledge and skill to conduct health-focused research with individuals, families, communities, or populations.

Because the methods used to achieve excellence in health- focused research apply to all areas of health care, the degree is open to licensed health professionals (such as nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and clinical social workers) who hold master’s degrees from an accredited program. While maintaining a foundational commitment to nursing and nursing research, interprofessional faculty collaborations within and outside of the School of Nursing provide a rich environment for novice clinical scholars, nurses and health care clinicians from other fields, to develop. We teach research theory and methods to produce the scientific evidence needed to advance knowledge and clinical practice in nursing and health care.  We have a strong belief in interprofessional education as a key to improving the quality of research and patient care. This is made possible by a commitment to training excellent beginning clinical health care scientists across nursing and other selected health practice professions. The core courses covering basic research methods are taught primarily by nursing faculty, while cognate courses, selected to support the specific area of study of each student, are taught by a wide range of faculty within and outside of the School of Nursing.

Students may pursue study associated with a variety of scientific interests represented by the faculty.  Our rich research-intensive University environment offers outstanding opportunities for mentorship by School of Nursing faculty and other health sciences colleagues.  Our Center for Research and Evidence-Based Practice provides support to faculty and students to assist them in achieving their research goals by providing them with general administrative support, working closely with them on the preparation of grant proposals, oversight of post-award financial management, and the dissemination of their research findings through poster development.

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The curriculum is designed to produce graduates who will be able to:

  • Critique, synthesize, and apply theory and research evidence on clinically relevant issues and problems.

  • Articulate the contributions of the graduate’s own research and that of his/her discipline.

  • Design, execute, and disseminate clinical research that is rigorous, ethical, theoretically congruent, and clinically and socially significant.

  • Demonstrate progression toward a leadership role in health science research, education, and policy.

  • Recognize the importance of mentoring students and facilitating professional advancement of colleagues in clinical and educational settings.

  • Disseminate information through scholarly presentations and publications to promote the growth of the profession.

Coursework phase. The program begins with 2 (PhD) years of intensive full-time course work, which becomes increasingly specialized. The plan of study is mapped out with the advisor before starting coursework.

Graduate study at the PhD level, especially in the rigorous programs at the University of Rochester, will probably require much more thinking and writing time in your out-of-class work than your previous academic programs. It is important to allow for adjustment to this kind of work as you build skills in logical thinking, writing, and oral expression. Students should plan for several days per week for reading and writing outside of class hours. Also, all students complete a total of 360 hours of Research Assistantship (RA) and Teaching Assistantship (TA) work, which requires about 6 hours per week if completed during 4 academic semesters. PhD students may be able to manage 1-2 days per week of employment at the most.

The Qualifying Exams take place in August after completion of the first year of coursework for full-time PhD students. These are a sit-down, time-limited written exam, followed by a 1-hour oral defense of the written exam. More information can be found in the PhD Handbook.

Proposal development phase. In this phase, students finalize and defend their dissertation research proposals. This phase can be completed in 1-2 semesters, and may be a “non-phase” if the student completes the dissertation proposal during coursework. The more work the student has done on the proposal during the coursework phase, the more rapidly he/she will be able to complete and defend it. Note that students maintain full-time registration; this phase should be considered a full-time effort. Students who return to full-time employment and attempt to do the proposal in their spare time are likely to become severely delayed in program completion.

For the duration of this phase, students register for Dissertation Workshop, in which a faculty member and students meet to discuss and critique developing research ideas. Each student selects three faculty members for their dissertation committee. The dissertation committee will be composed of:

  • A dissertation advisor (chair) from the School of Nursing faculty, who may or may not be the original academic advisor

  • An additional School of Nursing faculty member

  • A University of Rochester faculty member outside the School of Nursing

The dissertation proposal is a written document that is developed by the student and revised in response to critique by the chair and committee members. When the proposal is judged ready for defense, the student prepares a public presentation of the proposed research, which is followed by a critique and oral defense conducted in private with the dissertation committee. Additional changes in the written proposal may be requested at that time.

The dissertation research may involve collecting psychological, behavioral, experiential, and/or biophysical data from individuals, families, and communities; testing clinical interventions developed or refined by the student; analyzing previously collected data from local or faculty research projects or national dataset's; or a combination of these.

Dissertation research phase. This phase can be completed in 6-18 months depending on the nature of the planned research. Once the proposal has been successfully defended and research review board approval has been secured, the student conducts the dissertation research project independently under guidance of the committee. The final dissertation is then written, revised with critique from the committee, and defended publicly with a private critique to follow.

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Individualizing the PhD Program

The student and academic advisor work together to design an individualized program of study. The program may be pursued on a full-time basis, in which the coursework phase is 2.5 years, or part time, in which the coursework phase is 3.5 years. There is one core curriculum that includes a series of required courses. Each course includes assignments that can be tailored to the student’s research goals.

The curriculum also includes 4 cognate courses selected by the student and advisor to support the student’s individual research interest. These cognate courses may be found within the School of Nursing, elsewhere in the University, or at other academic institutions.

The program also requires at least 360 hours of unpaid Research and Teaching Assistant work as part of the learning experience during the coursework phase. These experiences can be selected based on the student’s individual interests and needs.

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Financial Support for PhD Study

Full-time PhD and MS-PhD have long received full tuition benefits for up to 60 credits and payment of the university health fee (health insurance not included).  Full-time students are also eligible for a cost-of-living stipend of $12,000/year for up to 4 years.

All nursing applicants are eligible for an additional Dean's Scholarship Award that provides two individuals up to $15,000 for two years, with option for re-application at the end of two years.

As for all SON programs, full-time and part-time students who are eligible for employee tuition benefits are expected to apply for them. This is the main source of funding for PhD students who are enrolled part-time.

All students are encouraged and supported to apply for grants, scholarships, and loans to support their education. Several prestigious University fellowships are also sought on behalf of entering students by the Program Director. For more information on Financial Aid, please see Financial Aid - PhD.

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PhD-prepared nurses and health professionals typically enter academic teaching positions at research-focused institutions, combining teaching and research, or clinical research positions, combining clinical leadership and research. They begin to build a program of research in a meaningful area of interest, and present and publish their research findings nationally and internationally. They join the ranks of the leaders of their professions and participate in national and international efforts to improve the health care system and set standards for research and practice.

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Admission Criteria

  • Completed PhD application.

  • Clinical licensure in a health profession, such as nursing, social work, or other clinical practice field. Suitability of other professions compatible with the mentoring capacity of School of Nursing faculty will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

  • Master's degree from an accredited program. Contribution of the Master's level preparation to the declared area of research interest will be evaluated on a case by case basis.

  • Transcripts from all previous college-level study reflecting a cumulative GPA of 3.0 for undergraduate work and 3.5 for graduate work.

  • Curriculum vitae.

  • Competitive scores on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) within the past 5 years.

    • If applicants choose to retake the GRE, the Admissions Office will include the highest scores earned for application review.
  • Positive letters of recommendation from at least three doctorally-prepared academics familiar with the applicant's intellectual ability, academic achievement, research potential, and professional commitment.

  • Professional Goal Statement describing career objectives and areas of research interest.

  • Writing sample (academic paper, publication, or other written work on which the applicant is first or sole author).

  • For international students for whom English is not the primary language or who did not complete their Master's degree in an English-speaking country, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores >560 for paper-based test and >230 for computer-based test. Transcripts from schools outside the US must be evaluated by one of the following services. There is a fee for this service. Evaluation reports must be sent directly to the University of Rochester.

  • After all of the above have been  reviewed, applicants judged to have a strong likelihood of success in the program will be asked to complete  interviews with at least 2 faculty members. Interviews should demonstrate research interests that are clear and compatible with the mentoring capacity of School of Nursing faculty.

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What to Expect

The PhD program is reading-intensive and library-intensive. It requires a strong support system and personal and financial sacrifices. Many say they have cut back on family time and work activities to give more time to their studies. Writing skills are honed to a high level. It requires a self-directed, highly organized work style, as you are gathering and critiquing information on your own specialized topic of interest.

Yet the rewards are great. Many students and graduates say that PhD study changes their lives. They look at clinical practice differently, read journals more critically, and bring a more conceptual and theoretical viewpoint to their professional activities. They embark on a new kind of career as a researcher, and learn that career by working closely with faculty researchers who are discovering new knowledge. If this kind of venture intrigues you, then a PhD may be for you!

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