Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Announces $20 Million Grant to Support Nurse PhD Scientists

Future of Nursing Scholars program will help more nurses get PhDs.

    • June 10, 2013

At a standing-room-only event at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing last week, John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and director of the Health Care Group, announced an ambitious new program designed to dramatically increase the number of PhD-prepared nurses in the United States. RWJF is investing $20 million in the new Future of Nursing Scholars program to support some of the country’s best and brightest nurses as they pursue their PhDs. RWJF is also working to identify and cultivate other philanthropies to join the effort, and the Independence Blue Cross Foundation announced that it is the first to sign on.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing will be the national program office for the Future of Nursing Scholars program. Afaf Meleis, PhD, DrPS (hon), FAAN, its Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing, welcomed the assembled group of nursing and health care leaders, and scholars and alumni of RWJF programs, to the launch event.

In its landmark nursing report, the Institute of Medicine recommended that the country double the number of nurses with doctorates; doing so will support more nurse leaders, promote nurse-led science and discovery, and put more educators in place to prepare the next generation of nurses. RWJF created the Future of Nursing Scholars program to address that recommendation.

Fewer than 30,000 of the nation’s more than 3 million nurses have doctoral degrees in nursing, and many of them have DNPs, not PhDs, which prepare nurses to conduct research and teach. PhD-prepared nurses tend to be older. The average age at which nurses get their PhDs in the U.S. is 46—13 years older than PhD earners in other fields.

“We need to replenish the core of individuals who are advancing the science of nursing to find ways to deliver care better in this country,” Lumpkin said. “The Future of Nursing Scholars program will support a select group of nurses as they work toward their PhDs, and develop them into tomorrow’s leaders—the people who will inspire the next generation of nurses. It joins the list of esteemed nursing programs RWJF has funded over its 40-year history and builds on the successes of those programs. Today we are also celebrating the launch of a philanthropic collaborative. No one group can do this alone, so we are working to provide other philanthropies with the strategic opportunity to help us build this program.”

The Independence Blue Cross Foundation is committing $450,000 over three years to support nurses in becoming transformational leaders in education, research, and policy. The Foundation’s president, Lorina Marshall-Blake, spoke at the launch event: “Maya Angelou famously said, ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ We feel so special to be a part of this collaboration. The Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s ten-year commitment to nursing has totaled more than $10 million, and we are very proud to be a founding funder in this new collaborative. We expect the nurse scholars this program supports to transform health care through innovation in their communities and nationwide.”

The Future of Nursing Scholars program co-directors are Julie Fairman, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Nightingale professor of nursing and director of the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, and Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, RWJF’s senior adviser for nursing.

“The diverse group of nurses who participate in this program will get the skills they need to advance the science and lead the profession,” said Fairman. “We will graduate the first cohort of scholars in 2018. These will be the faculty and scientists of tomorrow who will be advancing nursing and improving patient care.”

In 2014, schools of nursing will apply to join the Future of Nursing Scholars program, which will support up to 100 PhD nursing candidates over its first two years. The first scholars will begin their PhD studies in 2015. They will receive scholarships, stipends, mentoring, leadership development, and dedicated post-doctoral research support.

“It is critically important to meet the need for nurses who have been trained in rigorous research methods to help discover solutions that will enhance the health and well-being of patients,” said Hassmiller. “Nursing, as a unique discipline, must continue to build a body of knowledge that will help future nurses understand more fully how to care for patients, families, and communities in the most evidence-based ways. Having more nurses with PhDs will help assure this future.”

Other speakers at the event included two RWJF scholars: Elizabeth Galik, PhD, CRNP, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar whose research is helping older adults suffering from dementia; and Munira Wells, PhD, RN, an RWJF New Jersey Nursing Scholar whose research focus is New Jersey nurses who were born in India and faced culture shock in the United States.

*NOTE: The call for applications for schools to apply for funding to support Scholars will be released in mid-2014. The scholars selected by the schools would then begin their PhD programs in 2015. The exact details of the program (which schools will be eligible, the financial support for the students, etc.) are now under development through the national program office at University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Subscribe to www.rwjf.org for nursing issues and you will receive notifications for the call for proposals. Check the schools in your area next year to see if they have received an award and are selecting scholars for this program.

Learn more about the RWJF Future of Nursing Scholars program.

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