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

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


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