The Next Generation of Nurse Leaders

This is a time of monumental and unprecedented changes in health care. While the Affordable Care Act has helped increase access to health care for many, millions still go without adequate care. We spend more money per capita on health care than any other country, yet we are no healthier. In fact, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world and higher rates of diseases like diabetes.

It will take a new generation of bold nurse leaders – experienced on the front lines and in the boardrooms of health care; skilled in science, research, and innovation; and mentored by key health care, business, and policy leaders, networked across the country – to create real transformational change.

Because of their experience and deep connections to patients and families, nurses are critical to leading this change and ensuring that health care is safe, accessible, and high quality. In particular, Ph.D.-prepared nurse scientists and researchers are in prime position to seek and identify solutions to serious problems that affect the lives of thousands of health care consumers, including strategies to keep people healthy in the first place. However, less than 1% of the nursing workforce has a Ph.D.

SEE ALSO: Enhancing Nursing Education

Facing the Challenge Head-On
To meet the demand for a larger, more diverse cadre of nurse faculty, scientists, and leaders, the number of Ph.D.-prepared nurses needs to grow substantially. According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, nurses complete their doctoral degrees, on average, at the age of 46. During the 2010-2011school year, the average age of doctorally prepared professors was 60.5 and the average age of nurse faculty at retirement is 62.5 years. We must take bold, decisive action to ensure there are enough Ph.D.-prepared nurses to not only advance health care research, but to educate the nurses we need to be on the front lines delivering quality care in our communities.

Through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and a community of funders including our inaugural funding partner, the Independence Blue Cross Foundation (IBC Foundation), the Future of Nursing Scholars program provides support to 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.

Aiding in Advanced Education
For more than a decade, Independence Blue Cross, and then later through its Foundation, have partnered with 22 nursing programs and invested more than $17 million in undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral scholarships, as well as student nurse internships. This year, the Foundation awarded $450,000 in new nursing scholarship grants to six area nursing schools in support of nurses pursuing a Doctoral of Nursing Practice degree. The Foundation also committed $600,000 to support eight students in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Future of Nursing Scholars program at Villanova University and the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to receiving financial support, the RWJF scholars receive training and other development opportunities during three in-person events-a Boot Camp before they begin their doctoral programs and two Summer Institutes. Webinars, conference calls, and other opportunities are available, too.

All scholars participate in leadership development activities, and are connected with influential mentors in health care, research, business, education, policy, innovation, and other key areas. The program includes a leadership network to facilitate collaboration between the scholars and their national mentors during and after their doctoral education, to ensure the scholars assume significant leadership roles early in their careers.

Students Find Success Quickly
The first cohort scholars’ careers are off to an auspicious start. Elizabeth Novack at the University of Pennsylvania recently published a paper, “The exploration of relationship power on partner condom use among HIV-positive Haitian women,” in the Journal for Nursing Doctoral Student Scholarship. Faith Atte a Villanova student was awarded the Joan Large Graduate Award by Sigma Theta Tau (Alpha Nu Chapter).

Novack, Atte, and a third IBC Foundation-funded scholar, Stephen Perez, (University of Pennsylvania) have also been offered unique opportunities by the IBC Foundation. They have visited with IBC leaders and participated in the Foundation’s nurse internship program. They also presented at the national Paradigms in Nursing Leadership Conference hosted by the IBC Foundation and the National League for Nursing in November 2015.

The Future of Nursing Scholars program is preparing nurses to take a leadership role in building a culture of health through scientific inquiry and educating thousands of nurses who will meet the future health care needs of our nation.

Susan Hassmiller and Julie Fairman are co-directors of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Future of Nursing Scholars Program, and Lorina Marshall-Blake is president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation.

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