Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Ethics

Nurses are on the front lines of ethical issues in health care. They typically spend the most time with patients and are most familiar with cases involving ethical challenges. Yet, nurses are often constrained by institutional policy and limited decision-making authority when ethically charged situations arise.

The Duquesne University online PhD program in Nursing Ethics provides nurses with expertise in evaluating and responding to ethically challenging situations in clinical practice and healthcare policy. In this program, students learn how to think and debate about ethics in a rigorous and rational manner. With intellectual skills and practical ethics knowledge, graduates will be prepared and empowered to stand up for what they know is right.

Program Focus

The PhD program in Nursing Ethics is an interdisciplinary program offered in collaboration with the Center for Global Health Ethics in the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

The Nursing Ethics PhD is distinguished from the traditional PhD in important ways. The PhD in Nursing program prepares scientists to engage in empirical research, while the PhD in Nursing Ethics program trains ethicists to engage in normative scholarship. Normative research or scholarship aims at figuring out what is right, good and what should or ought to be the case, whereas empirical inquiry aims at figuring out what is the case. Normative research is the hallmark of the field of ethics. In this program, students learn normative methods, and apply those methods to challenging ethical problems in nursing practice and healthcare policy.

The program also offers students the opportunity to conduct empirical research with our highly accomplished nurse scientists However, the focus of the program, including the dissertation, is normative in nature: students learn to make reasoned arguments for their positions on a range of challenging and controversial moral problems in nursing and healthcare, and to respond rationally and convincingly to those who hold different positions. In this way, students will be prepared to contribute to the ethical improvement of nursing practice and the delivery of healthcare.

For a more detailed description of normative scholarship and its distinction from empirical research, as well as a discussion of the importance of normative scholarship in nursing, please see Vogelstein & Colbert (2019).

PhD in Nursing Ethics Roundtable Videos

Dr. Rick Zoucha, chair of the Advanced Role and PhD Program, discusses the PhD in Nursing Ethics program with Dr. Eric Vogelstein, associate professor, and Dr. Michael Deem, assistant professor.

Learn about the role of a nurse ethicist and the job opportunities this degree unlocks.

Listen to a discussion about the curriculum for the PhD in Nursing Ethics program.

Discover the candidates we are looking to enroll, and how you can apply.


Program Information

The PhD in Nursing Ethics online program prepares you to become a nurse ethicist. The program focuses on normative research and scholarship and applies those methods to challenging ethical problems in nursing practice and health care policy. This is a 47-credit interdisciplinary program offered in collaboration with the Center for Global Health Ethics in the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

Program Type




Academic Department

Advanced Role and PhD Program (Nursing)


4-6 years

Required Credit Hours



Students begin the program with coursework. Courses include ethics and nursing courses taught by healthcare ethicists as well as clinical and research nursing faculty. Students take 13 courses in total, including four or five ethics courses and eight or nine courses in nursing science, policy and practice. Nursing courses provide the students with the background to evaluate empirical literature and conduct research if they choose.

Students then design and complete their dissertation. While the coursework is online, students come to campus for Topic Approval (see residency requirements below), take a Comprehensive Exam which involves writing two substantial papers (usually related to the dissertation topic), and then begin the dissertation: a substantial research project on an ethics topic of the student’s choosing. The program can be completed in four years (approximately two years of coursework and two years to complete the dissertation), although students may take more time if desired.

The program has four in-person residency requirements, including a study abroad experience.

Residency 1: Doctoral Week (May of Year 1)

Every student admitted to the PhD program is required to come to Duquesne’s campus in Pittsburgh, PA, for the first residency, usually held during the second or third week of May prior to matriculation. The week includes an orientation to the PhD program and provides an opportunity for students to meet faculty and participate in live classes.

Residency 2: Study Abroad (Summer of Year 2)

Students enrolled in GPNG 924 Methods of Scientific Inquiry II will take part of the course as a study abroad experience (approximately 10-14 days) in Dublin, Ireland or Rome, Italy, where Duquesne has campuses.

Residency 3: Topic Approval (May of Year 3)

Students will come to campus to defend their proposed dissertation topic, prior to writing their formal dissertation proposal the following semester (which outlines the project in detail).