Bold Actions Lead to Decisive Change: The Future of Nursing Scholars Program

Nov 25, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by Heather Kelley

Three years ago, the Initiative on the Future of Nursing at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) set a revolution in motion with the release of The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report. Among the bold recommendations offered in the report was the call to double the number of nurses with doctoral degrees by 2020.

RWJF recognizes the valuable contributions that PhD-prepared nurse scientists and researchers make in the lives of patients and families. Their discoveries have the potential to change our health care system. However, as the IOM report suggested, we do not have nearly enough doctorally prepared nurses seeking new solutions to ongoing problems. Currently, less than 1 percent of the nursing workforce has a doctoral degree in nursing or a related field.

An investment in creating more PhD-prepared nurses will not only help identify new research questions, it also will help to provide the evidence needed to improve the quality of health care in this country. More PhD-prepared nurses will teach the next generation of nurses, filling the pipeline so the country has well-prepared nurses in generations to come. Each PhD-prepared nurse educator and researcher has the potential to educate thousands of nurses over the course of his/her career while engaged in productive research to find solutions to pressing health care problems.

To address this startling need, RWJF has committed $20 million over five years to support the Future of Nursing Scholars program and has invited partners to join the initiative. This multi-funder program will create a large and diverse cadre of PhD-prepared nurses who are committed to long-term leadership careers that advance science and discovery, strengthen nursing education, and bring transformational change to nursing and health care. The program will provide scholarships, mentoring, and leadership development activities, as well as postdoctoral research support, to build the capacity of this select group of future nurse leaders. Scholars will be selected by the schools selected via the application process.

Led by Julie Fairman, PhD, RN, FAAN, Nightingale Professor of Nursing and director, Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania and Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, RWJF senior adviser for nursing, the program is developing a strategic philanthropic collaborative to engage other donors dedicated to transforming nursing and health care. Independence Blue Cross Foundation and United Health Group have committed funds and we are in negotiations with additional donors.  

In partnership with our funders, this program will provide financial support to scholars enrolled full-time in research-focused PhD programs who will complete their degrees in three years. It is an ambitious timeline, but we must answer the bold recommendations of the IOM with bold actions to implement change. We are facing a crisis in this country and this program will help to combat it. Further, we are not just looking for scholars who will race to the finish line. We want them to finish in three years and be outstanding scholars poised to make a strong impact on the field. To help them meet and exceed their goals, the program will provide mentoring and leadership development activities to connect students with influential mentors in health care, research, business, education, policy, innovation, and other key areas. The Future of Nursing Scholars program will create a leadership network to facilitate collaborative work among the students—and between the students and their national mentors—during and after doctoral education, ensuring that they assume significant leadership roles earlier in their careers.

We are just now beginning this journey. Our first call for proposals launches in February when schools of nursing can begin applying for spots in the program. Once selected, these schools will choose the students who will participate. We plan to welcome our inaugural cohort of scholars in the fall of 2014.

The road ahead is winding, but we look forward to traveling it with the leaders of tomorrow.

Learn more about RWJF’s Future of Nursing Scholars program.

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