A ‘Watershed Moment’ for the New Jersey Nursing Initiative

Innovative program’s first PhD scholars graduate, joining pipeline of nurses prepared to fill faculty positions in the Garden State.

    • June 11, 2013

How do you sum up four years devoted to pursuing a doctorate in nursing? “It was a remarkable opportunity that opened so many doors for the way I’ll function as a nursing educator and a researcher,” said Sheila Linz, PhD, PMHNP-BC, RN, one of eight nurses whose spring graduations represent a milestone for the New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI): the first New Jersey Nursing Scholars to complete PhD degrees.

With the graduation of five PhD scholars at Seton Hall University on May 18, three at Rutgers on May 23, plus one master of science in nursing (MSN) scholar at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey on May 20, NJNI has supported 47 scholars whose master’s or doctoral degrees qualify them for nurse faculty positions.

An additional 13 PhD scholars and one additional MSN scholar continue in their graduate nursing programs with support from NJNI, which was launched by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2009 to address the state’s staggering 10.5 percent nurse faculty vacancy rate and help avert a projected shortage of nurses in New Jersey.

“This is truly a watershed moment for NJNI,” said RWJF Senior Program Officer Maryjoan D. Ladden, PhD, RN, FAAN. “With just two nursing PhD programs in New Jersey, it’s a challenge to get 21 scholars through those institutions. The fact that the first eight PhD scholars have completed their programs in four years, when it often takes considerably longer, reflects an amazing commitment from the schools and intense mentoring from faculty. And it reflects the potential these women and men have to be dynamic forces in nursing education and practice.”

The New Jersey Nursing Scholars who graduated in May:

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

  • Rahshida Atkins, PhD, APN, FNP-BC, whose research focus is depression in Black single mothers;
  • Tracy Perron, PhD, RN, whose research focus is school bullying;
  • Robert Scoloveno, PhD, RN, whose research focus is how resilience affects the health outcomes of middle adolescents;

Seton Hall University

  • Connie Kartoz, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, whose research focus is medication adherence in older adults living independently in the community;
  • Linz, whose research focus is social isolation in the severely mentally ill;
  • Maria Torchia LoGrippo, PhD, RN, whose research focus is how trusting relationships between pregnant women and certified nurse-midwives lead to positive outcomes for mothers and their babies;
  • Kristi Stinson, PhD, RN, APN-C, whose research focus is attitudes toward the use of physical restraints in critical care environments;
  • Munira Wells, PhD, RN, whose research focus is New Jersey nurses who were born in India and faced culture shock in the United States; and

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

  • Julie Aseltta, MSN, RN.

“The New Jersey Nursing Scholars are part of the legacy of NJNI,” said Program Director Susan Bakewell-Sachs, PhD, RN, PNP-BC, “but more importantly, they are part of the future of nursing in New Jersey. They were chosen because of their skills and accomplishments, but also because of NJNI’s hope for tomorrow—that these scholars will become the next generation of faculty we need to be sure we can teach the next generation of nurses. I’m so happy with the progress we’ve made.”

The nursing population is aging, with only 8 percent of New Jersey nurses younger than 30. The average age of the state’s nurses is 51, and the average age of nurse faculty is 55. A recent study projects a shortage of 23,358 nurses in New Jersey by 2030.

What’s Next

Linz and classmates Stinson and Wells will teach at Seton Hall this fall. “I’ve grown more than I expected as I pursued my PhD,” said Stinson. “It’s been a big lesson in time management. Using all the lessons that NJNI provided the scholars, I hope I can be a change agent.”

“Getting my PhD as a New Jersey Nursing Scholar has made a big difference for me,” said Wells. “It’s involved collaboration and networking not just with leaders in New Jersey, but experts from around the country. There are more opportunities open to me now.”

LoGrippo’s plans include post-doctoral research at Rutgers, part-time teaching, and serving as project director for the New Jersey Action Coalition’s State Implementation Program grant. “My PhD experience has made me committed to improving nursing education in New Jersey, and it’s made me want to continue to do research and provide evidence-based practices for the clinical environment and education,” she said.

“Being a New Jersey Nursing Scholar and working with RWJF has given me access to leaders in nursing in a way I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise,” said Kartoz, who will be an assistant professor at the College of New Jersey this fall. “I’ve been exposed to national perspectives from exceptional people, and I’ve come to believe I can follow the example of these leaders.”

Two scholars from Rutgers will soon return to the classroom as well.

“I definitely want to continue my research, because I’m passionate about my topic. Plus, I love teaching,” said Perron, who will teach full time at Kean University this fall. “This opportunity came at a perfect time for me. I had to get my PhD if I wanted to advance in academia.”

Scoloveno plans to be an assistant professor and director of clinical simulation at Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden this fall. “I’m amazed by how fast the time has gone by and how much I’ve grown in ways I didn’t expect,” he said. “The contacts I’ve made will be a great resource throughout my career.”

Atkins works as a family nurse practitioner and is looking into post-doctoral research opportunities. She called her experience as a New Jersey Nursing Scholar “a privilege.” It’s “broadened my view of nursing education and research. My vision for educational success and scholarship was enhanced by rubbing shoulders with seasoned nurse educators.”

Learn more about the New Jersey Nursing Initiative.