Fast Tracking for Nursing Scholars

November 18th, 2011


By , BSN, RN

Just over a year ago the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) — in conjunction with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) — released The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. The groups called their publication a blueprint for transforming the American health system by strengthening nursing care and better preparing nurses.

Part of that blueprint calls for doubling the number of doctorally prepared nurses by the year 2020. Translated into real numbers that means an additional 24,147 nurses must earn a doctorate by 2020, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Faculty and scientists are already in short supply in nursing schools across the country. The lack of Ph.D. level nurses in nursing schools is lending to the current and future nursing shortage. No teachers, no students, no new nurses.

One school has answered that call to action by developing an innovative new program to launch more nurse scholars faster. The average age of nurses graduating with a Ph.D. now hovers near 45 years of age. This program seeks to collapse the time from entering nursing school to earning a doctorate to about seven years. In fact, the inaugural class in this new program is coming to end of their first semester.

The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) School of Nursing's Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation is designed to provide support for a BSN-to-PhD program. The University is partnered with the Hillman Foundation, a New York-based philanthropy dedicated to improving the lives of patients and their families through nurse-led innovation. The new program strives to create a new cadre of nurse scientists and leaders who will shape innovative solutions to health care in the future.

The first five students began the program this fall. The scholars are academically talented traditional and second degree BSN students planning careers as nurse leaders and researchers, and who can commit to a seamless BSN-to-PhD pathway without the traditional breaks for clinical practice.

The program’s diverse and demanding educational experience incorporates interdisciplinary education with research career development and guidance starting at the undergraduate level. Students work closely with faculty mentors and collaborate with established research teams in Penn Nursing’s research centers.

“Close mentorship and integration with active research teams is essential, particularly while our scholars are completing their undergraduate degree work,” said Terry Richmond, PhD, CRNP, who directs the program. “This is a cornerstone of the program. Our scholars will be immersed in relevant research, meet regularly with their mentors, and participate in research colloquia, meetings, and research activities as guided by their mentors.”

Penn Nursing was awarded a 5-year grant by the Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation to establish the new program. Penn Nursing has partnered with the Hillman Foundation for more than 20 years in the development and implementation of an undergraduate scholarship program that carried with it a commitment to clinical practice in New York City. This program was used as a model for Hillman scholarship programs at other schools.

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