RWJF’s First 40 Years Investing in Nurses and Nursing

Feb 19, 2013, 12:00 PM

For more than four decades, the grantmaking of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has advanced the nursing profession, supporting nurses in their efforts to improve care and strengthening nurses’ role in shaping the future of the nation’s health care system. The latest issue of Charting Nursing’s Future, RWJF’s periodic series of issue briefs, tracks the Foundation’s growing commitment to nursing.

The brief examines RWJF’s impact in five distinct areas:

  • Expanding roles for nurses;
  • Building educational capacity;
  • Demonstrating nurses' contributions to quality and safety;
  • Creating leaders for the 21st century; and
  • Bridging gaps in research and data.

Among the two dozen past and present programs highlighted in the brief:

  • Expanding roles. In the mid-1970s, RWJF played a critical role in the emergence and acceptance of nurse practitioners (NPs), supporting demonstration projects in rural areas of California, Alabama, Tennessee and New England. Subsequently, RWJF’s Nurse Faculty Fellowship Program helped create an intellectual home for primary care nursing, leading to the creation of master’s degree NP programs across the nation.
  • Building educational capacity. RWJF's New Careers in Nursing program addresses the current nursing shortage. Through grants to schools of nursing, the program provides scholarships of $10,000 to college graduates pursuing nursing degrees through accelerated baccalaureate and master’s degree nursing programs. More than 2,700 students at 119 schools of nursing have received scholarships under the program.
  • Advancing quality and safety. The RWJF-funded Transforming Care at the Bedside project tested the proposition that nurses and other front-line caregivers could identify lapses in quality and safety and test and implement novel solutions in real time. Indeed, a pilot program at three hospitals resulted in reductions in harmful falls and readmissions, and participants reported improved teamwork, staff engagement and capacity to make changes as a result of the program. The project has grown significantly, and in 2009, with support from RWJF, the New Jersey Hospital Association launched a multi-year program to apply the approach statewide, the first state in the nation to do so.
  • Creating leaders. Created in 1997, the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program provides world-class leadership development to a carefully selected group of 20 senior nurse executives each year. The influence of the program’s 200 fellows and alumni is now felt in the upper echelons of health care delivery, academia, public health, and state and federal government.
  • Bridging research gaps. The Institute of Medicine’s landmark The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report stresses the importance of reliable data in effective workforce planning and policymaking. Recognizing that need years ago, RWJF began supporting efforts to expand research on nursing workforce issues. RWJF’s Colleagues in Caring: Regional Collaboratives for Nursing Work Force Development supported the creation and growth of two dozen statewide and multi-county collaboratives that established systems to collect and analyze data on regional nursing shortages and to assist the profession and policy-makers in preparing for future workforce needs. The project’s success is reflected in the 40 state collaboratives around the nation—spawned from the original grantees—now referred to as state nursing workforce centers.

In all, RWJF has invested more than $538 million in nursing programs since 1972, including $91 million in the last two years alone, a sign of the vital role nursing plays in the Foundation’s vision of the future of health care.

Read the current issue of Charting Nursing’s Future here, and sign up for free email delivery at The next issue will focus on barriers to practice facing Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), and how some institutions are overcoming them.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.