Mentoring and Leadership Development: The Future of Nursing Scholars Program

Feb 21, 2014, 2:32 PM

Human Capital Blog:  What is the goal of the Future of Nursing Scholars program?

Julie Fairman: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched the Future of Nursing Scholars program to 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. It is vitally important that we meet the growing need for PhD-prepared nurses, not only to ensure that we address the shortage of nurse faculty members, but because nurse researchers make valuable contributions to practice and policy.  The program will fund schools of nursing to provide scholarships, and it will provide mentoring and leadership development activities to build the capacity of a select group of future nurse leaders. The program’s call for proposals launched this week, and scholars will be selected by the nursing colleges and universities that submit successful program proposals.

HCB:  Congratulations on the release of the program’s first call for proposals! As schools begin applying to participate in this program, what would you like them to keep in mind?

Fairman: We are very excited about this program. The major requirement for participation is that research-focused schools of nursing must be ready and able to graduate PhD students in three years. We understand that acquiring a PhD in nursing in three years is not the norm and that many schools have not previously graduated students within that time frame. So, schools are not necessarily ineligible if they have never operated this way, but they will need to provide a thorough description of how they will meet this obligation. We are asking applicant schools to provide information not only about their curricula, but also about their mentoring activities and faculty engagement with research. We also ask that they provide a discussion of interdisciplinary engagement in their institutions, and details about their admission, retention, and graduation of PhD nurses.

Schools that are chosen for the program will be responsible for selecting the scholars who will participate. Schools should select scholars who understand and accept the challenge of completing their PhD degrees in three years. To succeed, the scholars they select will be goal-directed, focused, and committed to long-term academic careers with a focus on science, health policy, and/or innovation. They also should be interested in health policy formulation or in the development of new evidence-based solutions to address health care problems.

HCB:  In addition to financial support, what types of things will scholars receive from the program?

Fairman: The program will provide $75,000 to each scholar, which will be matched with $50,000 by the school. The school match may be in-kind, such as providing tuition support, health insurance, research support, etc.  These funds will be used to support students over three years. The total package of $125,000 per student must include student stipend over three years.

In addition to funding to complete their PhD, scholars in the Future of Nursing program will receive leadership development and mentoring to prepare them for leadership careers. Scholars will work with two mentors of their choosing—a primary mentor from their nursing program (typically a dissertation advisor) and another mentor, who is not a nurse but is involved in research, policy, or innovation. We will involve their primary mentors in our annual events. First, scholars will attend a Future of Nursing program boot camp. The program will cover the expenses associated with this event which will provide a foundation for successful progress in their PhD programs. We are working with members of our National Advisory Committee and other experts to design a leadership toolkit and an agenda of opportunities for scholars to gain experience, including an annual summer institute. At the same time, we understand that while it is important that we provide as many opportunities as possible, we want to do so without interfering with their completion of the PhD in three years.

HCB:  What are the next steps for interested schools?

Fairman: Applications are due via the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Application and Review site by April 15, 2014. In the meantime, it may be helpful for schools interested in applying to peruse the frequently asked questions or attend a webinar for applicants on February 27, 2014. Leaders from interested nursing schools should contact the program office with questions at

HCB: If I am a nurse interested in getting my PhD, how can I get support from this program?

Fairman: As I mentioned, students won’t apply to this program. However, that doesn’t mean there is no role for students in pursuing these opportunities. First, nurses can contact PhD program directors at schools they are interested in attending, to alert them to this opportunity.  Interested nurses may consider contacting potential mentors at the school to discuss what should be prioritized in an academic application. Second, it is our aim that schools selected to participate in this program will increase the number of students they admit in the following year. This summer, we will announce the newly chosen schools that will be part of our inaugural group. If you have other questions, please contact our program office.

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