PhD Program

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The development of the PhD in Nursing program followed a long and controversial path. In 1972, Dean Isabel Harris appointed a task force to begin the process. Task force members included Ellen Egan, Helen B. Hansen, Isabel Harris, Barbara Redman and Ida Martinson. A PhD in nursing was a relatively new concept with just eight other programs in the U.S. at the time plus nine nurse scientist programs (Harris, 1974). Within the University of Minnesota there were large pockets of outright opposition based on the belief that nursing had insufficient knowledge and research faculty to support such a program.

Multiple strategies were used to counter this opposition. Research faculty from the Medical School and School of Public Health were given appointments to the graduate faculty of nursing to augment nursing faculty. Information was gathered about research of nursing faculty in other schools around the country and the need for knowledge in nursing. In 1976 the school received a three-year $150,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation to develop the PhD program and expand the masters program. A year later a three-year $442,700 grant was obtained from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to plan, develop and operate a PhD program. Other program costs were to be covered by reassignment of funds from other activities.

Ellen Fahy was appointed dean in 1980 and worked closely with Floris King and Mitzi Duxbury to develop and implement a political strategy to gain program approval. A third and final proposal was submitted to the Graduate School in 1980. By 1980 there were twenty-two nursing doctoral programs in the U.S. In 1982, the school’s proposal was approved by the Board of Regents and the Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The need for the program was argued in terms of the emergence of “new epidemics” (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.), increases in environmentally induced disorders, and technological advances that require nursing care based on increasingly complex knowledge. Nurses with research skills were believed to be necessary to meet these challenges. Finally, a nursing doctorate precluded the need for nurses to leave the field to seek doctoral preparation in other fields.

The program was designed to have five areas of research and study:

     a) Development and modification of health related behaviors
     b) Human responses to environmental and life process events disruptive to health
     c) The phenomenon of health
     d) Organization and system of delivery of nursing care
     e) Organization and system of deliver of nursing knowledge

Unlike most nursing doctoral programs, applicants with baccalaureate degrees and strong academic backgrounds in physical and behavioral sciences were eligible for admission. In fact, most applicants have been masters prepared and it was not until the 2000s that a number of baccalaureate prepared nurses were admitted. Individuals with non-nursing degrees are also eligible for admission. In the beginning, the plan was to admit five students per year, assuming a match with the research activity of faculty members.

The first three students were admitted in 1983 and seven more were admitted in 1987. The first graduate, JoAnn Branson Ruiz-Bueno, completed the program in 1987. She had completed a large amount of doctoral work before coming to Minnesota.

Meanwhile the school focused attention on recruiting research-prepared faculty and building research programs to support the PhD degree. Over the years the faculty became concerned with the relatively slow rate of program completion. This led to a major refocusing of the curriculum to use a cohort model to foster peer support and learning. The curriculum was redefined to include coursework in a) nursing science and theory, b) high quality and cutting edge research methodology (e.g., qualitative and quantitative design and methods; biobehavioral and psychosocial measurement; informatics, etc), and c) research translation and diffusion. Completion rates increased significantly following this change.

The following essay was prepared by a committee preparing for the thirtieth anniversary of the program in 2013.

The University of Minnesota Nursing PhD Program 1983-2013
Thirty Years of Impact
L. Lindeke, M. Snyder, M. Turner, C. Robertson

In 1983, the University of Minnesota School of Nursing (SON) launched the nation’s 23rd PhD in Nursing program. The impact of the program’s 155 graduates on nursing knowledge, education, practice, policy and health outcomes is grounded in the School’s historical roots of innovation and leadership. Their careers are important to celebrate during this milestone year. PhD in Nursing graduates have made outstanding contributions to nursing knowledge in areas such as ethics, theory, health policy, child and family health, gerontology and practice innovation.

The School of Nursing PhD Program story began in the late 1970s when the need for doctorally prepared nurses was obvious – at least to nurses. A factor was the ongoing need for faculty members for the state’s 52 nursing programs and beyond. At that time several SON nursing faculty members were recognized for seminal scholarship and were poised to involve doctoral students in discovering new nursing knowledge. Three-year grants of $150,000 from the McKnight Foundation and $442,700 from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare provided essential financial support to begin the program. A research grant from the Nursing Research Branch of the United States Public Health Service also enhanced the school’s research environment and supported faculty research programs.

Beginning with three students, the program quickly flourished, awarding the first PhD degree in 1987. By then 24 students were enrolled, twenty of whom received teach and research assistantships funded by the School of Nursing, solid evidence of the School’s commitment to the program. By 1994, enrollment grew to 48 students with 28 graduates. By its 25th anniversary in 2008, enrollment was at 54 students, and graduates numbered 120. In it 30 years, the PhD program has produced 155 graduates, with 45 students currently enrolled.

The PhD program expanded in breadth as well as in numbers by admitting several students who were not registered nurses and who wished to be prepared to frame their scholarship within the nursing framework. Several students now pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree along with the PhD in nursing. Some are admitted with bachelor’s preparation in the BSN-to-PhD option. Students typically graduate in three to six years and are quickly employed in a variety of academic and clinical positions. International students have been part of the program since its inception, particularly from Asia and Canada. Graduates have worked worldwide in leadership roles.
Students study within the seven School of Nursing Centers of Excellence. Some receive support from highly competitive sources such as the Hartford Foundation and the National Institute of Nursing Research. Many participate in interprofessional courses and experiences such as those supported by the Center for Spirituality and Healing, the Hartford Center, the Center for Children with Special Health Care Needs, and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Numerous partnerships enrich their studies (e.g. Veterans Administration, Mayo Health System).

A recent survey captured the impact of 86 PhD nursing graduates (68% response rate). Over one third serve on advisory boards, as chairs or presidents, and as conference planners. Many express pride in teaching, developing curriculum, and producing educational media. Almost all (n=84) participate in research with funding from government, foundations, local organizations, agencies, and academic enterprises. Graduates’ publications reflect their significant ongoing contribution to the profession: Nearly all have written journal articles. Some have twenty or more publications and many have written books and book chapters; almost a third have been members of editorial boards. Truly, the PhD in Nursing Program is living its mission:

“to generate and disseminate knowledge necessary for promoting health by developing and improving the nursing care of individuals, families, communities and populations that reflect diversity in society.”
(PhD Handbook, 2013)

University of Minnesota School of Nursing 155 PhD Graduates
1987 – 2013

Kiyoko Finch Abe
Patricia Guthrie
Jehad Zaki Adwan
Susan Gross Forneris
Kathryn Elaine Anderson
Melissa Hanner Frisvold
Melissa D. Avery
Eva M. Gallagher
Brenda Becker
Roxanna Lee Gapstur
John Leland Belew
Carolyn Marie Garcia
Sue Ellen Bell
Judith Ann Graziano
Mary Mescher Benbenek
Thora Jenny Gunnarsdottir
Rozina Hasanali Bhimani
Karen Marie Gutierrez
Pamela Kay Bjorklund
Jill Guttormson
Ann Marie Bowman
Niloufar Niakosari Hadidi
Cheryl Lynne Brandt
Carmen Elyse Gusek Hall
Joan Kay Brandt
Margo A. Halm
Donna Jeanne Brauer
Bonnie Lee Harbaugh
Carie Ann Braun
Scott B. Harpin
Carol Sue Brown
Linda Marie Herrick
Audrey Arline Bryan
Doris Marie Hill
Joann Elizabeth Butrin
Diane Elizabeth Holland
Marcia Marie Byrd
Mary Catherine M Hooke
Miriam Elaine Cameron
Rhoda Tuttle Hooper
Susan Ellen Campbell
Kathryn Hoyman
Kuei-Min Chen
Jacquelyn Ann Huebsch
Wenyun Cheng
Yuh-Pyng Jang
Mary Lois Chesney
Julie Ann Johnson
Corjena K. Cheung
Karen Elizabeth Johnson
Linda L. Chlan
Helga Jonsdottir
Lynn Marie Choromanski
Roberta Ann Jorgensen
Chin-Yin Chou
Angela McCaffrey Jukkala
Terryann Coralie Clark
Kathleen Ann Kalb
Misty Lynn Condiff
Kathryn Diann Kallas
Susan Connor
So Young Kang
Saundra Kaye Crump
Rozina Karmaliani
Hans Peter Deruiter
Ann Wilde Kelly
Mary Therese Dierich
Laura Nelson Kirk
Joan E. Dodgson
Mark S. Kirschbaum
Ann Marie Dose
Kathryn Ann Krisko-Hagel
Joan H. Dzenowagis
Gisli Kort Kristofersson
Emiko Endo
Su-Chen Kuo
Tracy A Evanson
Robin M. Lally
Karen Sue Feldt
Frank Philip Lamendola
Denise Rae Remus
Elizabeth Anne Lando-King
Sharon Ridgeway
Norma Kay Larson
Cheryl Lee Robertson
Elizabeth Ann Lavelle
Diane Kay Rose
Heeyoung Lee
Mary Margaret Rowan
Becky Jo Lekander
Joann B. Ruizbueno
Brenda Kay Lenz
Kristin Elizabeth Sandau
Suzanne Congdon LeRoy
Nola Ann Schmitt
Lichan Lin
Erica Schorr
Merian Campbell Litchfield
Molly Ann Secor-Turner
Marilyn Loen
Sue Ellen Sendelbach
Lisa Christine Martin
Patricia Solum Shaver
Diana Downing Mashburn
Suzan G. Sherman
Barbara J. Matthees
Sheila Kathleen Smith
Sonja J. Meiers
Sarah Anne Stoddard
Michaelene P Mirr
Roxanne Struthers
Bernita Eileen Missal
Karen Krause Swenson
Susan Diemert Moch
Kristine Marie Carlson Talley
Karen A. Monsen
Mary Ellen Tanner
Leslie Morrison
Elizabeth Helen Thomlinson
Pei-Fan Mu
Edward Samuel Thompson
Robert James Muster
Patricia Ann Tommet
Diana O. Neal
Mary Frances Tracy
John W. Nelson
Diane Treat-Jacobson
Margot L. Nelson
Yuehhsia Tseng
Pamela J. Nelson
Dolores Martha Turner
Kathleen Joan Niska
Nicolle Marie Uban
Carol Ann O'Boyle
Arin Gin Miles VanWormer
Marianne Elizabeth Olson
Jing-Jy Wang
Thomas Craig Olson
Shigeaki Watanuki
Rachelle Deanne Parsons
Marjorie Daniels Weiss
Valinda Ilene Pearson
Audrey Jane Weymiller
Susan D. Peck
Marie Frances Winn
Susan Irene Penque
Penny M. Wrbsky
Dawn Erin Petroskas
Mary Ellen Wurzbach
Michael Glenn Petty
Miao-Fen Yen
Margaret L. Pharris
Paulette A. Zachman
Janice E. Postwhite
Barbara L. Zust
Mary Jess Regan
Luann Mary Althau Reif


Glass, L.K. (2009). Leading the way: A history of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, 1909-2009. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Harris, I. (1974). in Martinson, I.M. (ed.) The future: Doctoral programs in nursing at the University of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Compiled by S. Edwardson, 2013