Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders in Academic Nursing

    • January 14, 2008

The Problem: Despite an existing nursing shortage that is expected to reach 1 million nurses by 2020, nursing schools report that thousands of qualified applicants are being turned away from baccalaureate and masters programs. The reason? An acute shortage of nursing faculty and other resources, such as clinical preceptors, training sites, and space and funding constraints. Despite the growing need for qualified faculty, few nurses are choosing to pursue academic teaching careers. Academic-prepared nurses cite the lack of prestige of the faculty role, intense faculty workloads, meager salaries and the desire to retain patient contact as reasons for seeking employment opportunities outside of academic settings.

The Proposal: The goal of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program is to develop the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing. Through career development awards for outstanding junior nursing faculty, the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program will provide mentorship, leadership training, salary and research support for three years to young junior faculty. Nurse Faculty Scholars will use their time in the program to gain critical research, leadership and teaching skills needed for a successful career in academic nursing. In addition, the program aims to strengthen the academic productivity and overall excellence of nursing schools by directly supporting these younger faculty members.

Program Director Jacquelyn C. Campbell, Ph.D., R.N., explains why the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program comes at such a critical time. According to Campbell, at least 30,000 potential nursing student applications are turned away each year due to the shortage of nursing faculty. “We have an increasing nursing need at a time when we can't keep pace with the number of applicants to our programs,” says Campbell, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Baltimore.

Campbell says that there are many reasons for this faculty shortage: the aging of existing nursing faculties; increased teaching demands in academia at a time when research and scholarship dollars have decreased; and improved nursing salaries in the clinical arena, which draws faculty away from the classroom and back to the patients' bedsides. “We have a confluence of forces—there is not one single thing you can point to,” Campbell says. “One of the patterns of faculty training in nursing has been that people graduate from the undergraduate program and practice for many years before coming back to graduate school. Through the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program, we are targeting junior faculty and encouraging people to move more quickly into the nursing faculty pool.”

Adds Campbell: “We want someone who can happily manage it all: continue to teach, be the role models that we want for our students, provide service to the institution by chairing committees, and have their own research scholarship career by contributing to nursing science. The RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar will have both the skills and the commitment to nursing and academic nursing. There are some faculty in medicine and nursing where the ideal career path is to get enough research funding so that they teach very little. But we want a continuing commitment to teaching, someone committed to a faculty career.”

RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars Program: RWJF will select up to 15 scholars each year to participate in the three-year program. Candidates must be junior faculty members with at least two and no more than five years of experience in the faculty role at the start of the program. Candidates who completed their doctoral degree within 10 years of receiving their initial nursing degree will be given priority consideration. Under the program, each scholar is eligible to receive up to $350,000 over three years; RWJF will make these grants to sponsoring institutions to support the scholar's salary, release time and scholarly projects. Sponsoring institutions must agree to protect 60 percent of the scholar's time for all three years of the program.

One important aspect of the program is its mentoring component, according to Angela B. McBride, Ph.D., R.N., and chair of the program's national advisory committee. Each Nurse Faculty Scholar will be paired with two mentors from the institution: a senior leader in the scholar's school of nursing who will advise the scholar on academic career development and attend the program's national meeting each year; and a senior researcher in the university who will guide the scholar in developing research projects and obtaining appropriate research skills, as well as guide the scholar into membership on high-level academic committees and research collaborations. The program also requires a third national mentor from outside the institution who can advise the scholar on everything from grant applications to policy.

“The program is set up to require mentoring, both within the school and outside, nationally, for the individual,” says McBride, distinguished professor emerita and former dean, Indiana University School of Nursing. “It is hoped that with these supports, the scholars will be successful, they won't get frustrated, and they will not say, ‘I will make more money in a hospital than in teaching.'

Addressing Concerns: The RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program is a commitment to academic nursing leadership. “RWJF has been concerned with and supported facilitating leadership in different ways,” says McBride. “This program is meant to address leadership development and scholarship development at a time when getting tenure is a very important marker. If people can be successful at this critical time in their careers, then the chance that they will commit to careers in academia is higher.”

Campbell agrees. “RWJF has a great deal of experience in training leaders in academic medicine,” she says. “Thank goodness there is a commitment to training leaders in nursing. We can point to RWJF's Nursing Executive Fellows Program that is ongoing and has been very successful in providing leadership training for nursing leaders in the practice arena. Through the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program, RWJF recognizes that what we need just as much is training for the faculty leaders—those who will become leaders in higher education and understand the forces that impact the schools of nursing as well as the academic medical institutions where most of the professional nursing schools fit.”

RWJF Perspective: The RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program is part of RWJF's Building Human Capital Portfolio, which supports programs that involve a diverse group of promising scholars in leadership development, training and research and help ensure that our nation has a sufficient, well-trained workforce.

RWJF Senior Program Officer Susan B. Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., says, “The RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars Program will help to build capacity in the next generation of academic nurse leaders. With a critical nurse faculty shortage, our nurses need these kinds of role models so that they, too, can envision a career in academia. This is a perfect fit for the Foundation as we continue our legacy of investing in a strong and diverse health professions workforce in order to improve the health and health care for all Americans.”