RWJF Aims to Tap More Nurses to Help Lead Its Epic Battle for a Culture of Health

Anytime a big foundation decides to blow up a whole bunch of programs and start over from scratch, it's murder on grantees. And it's also hard on program staff who've nurtured work over years and have to field the desperate phone calls. But creative destruction comes with the terrain of smart, big-time philanthropy, and so we're always impressed when a funder is actually able to push the button.

When RWJF torpedoed its entire Human Capital flotilla of grant programs last year, we were queasy-curious, especially since the bulk of those programs just disappeared. Poof!

The snippets that stayed were reworked into RWJF’s Future of Nursing program, a booster program designed to lift ambitious nurses into the ranks of Ph.D.-holders, and, after that, into shaping public health policy. The foundation's latest announcement on nursing seems to be in keeping with that line of reasoning: a Public Health Nurse Leaders Program.

The thinking here is that, through education and support, nurses can emerge as leaders at the community level to push strategies to improve the health of the population, "build partnerships with key stakeholders in organizations and communities," and influence policy.

The broader goal of nurturing these changemakers is to build a "culture of health." More specifically, this fits into RWJF's grand plan for its human capital investments going forward: to mobilize a vanguard to help take down a toxic culture in which a Big Mac passes for a square meal, thirty yards is considered a long walk (from the car), and 200-pound 11-year-olds play video games all afternoon. 

Related - Wanted by RWJF: An Army of Leaders to Fight a Culture War for Health

Think of the public health nurse leaders, or PHNLs, as a new subset of health leaders specifically groomed to pull various levers of change and work with other players to make things happen, particularly in state "action coalitions." That's obviously a different job description than, say, setting up IVs or vaccinating kids, so you can see where RWJF's money comes in. It's going to take real resources to move nurses to the front lines of the big battles to improve health. 

The Public Health Nurse Leaders Program program will run for two years, and it's part of a national campaign to implement the recommendations in The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the influential report by Institute of Medicine. State action coalitions (ACs) are central to that campaign, and RWJF is looking to boost the role of PHNLs in those coalitions. After all, nobody has a better feel for how our healthcare system operates at the ground level than nurses, so you can see why RWJFs wants more of them rubbing shoulders with the other players in the ACs, including a "wide range of health care providers, consumer advocates, policy-makers, and business, academic and philanthropic leaders."

This year, the program will fund the leadership development of up to twenty-four PHNLs over two years, a value of over $40,000 each. PHNLs also will have access to $5,000 for additional individual leadership development or travel. Partnering action coalitions will receive $5,000 in unrestricted funds for their participation in this collaboration. 

Public Health Nurse Leader awards are open to registered nurses currently serving in a leadership position with a public health organization.