It's Dr. Nurse, to You: RWJF's Plan to Empower Brainiac Nurses to Fight for a Culture of Health

Did anyone else get a little queasy-curious back in February when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced it was terminating several programs that supported nursing, even as it also backed a national campaign to greatly expand the number of nurses in America? 

Gee, we thought, what’s RWJF's angle? How do you boost the field of nursing even as you shutter successful foundation efforts that have been tremendously popular?

In the end, it all comes down to flexing a more muscular agenda. While past funding sought to boost nurses professionally with leadership seminars and feel-good empowerment, among other approaches, the new program, the Future of Nursing Scholars, has loftier goals. It’s specifically about giving nurses the support and encouragement to go out there and earn doctorates.

In turn, that goal supports RWJF's strategy of advancing a culture of health by creating a new cadre of sophisticated leaders in the healthcare field who can think across disciplines, integrate research with practice, and otherwise lead a movement to help kick America's flabby ass into shape.

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

The foundation see brainiac nurses as key players in the quest for "transformational change" in U.S. health care. It says:

Nurse researchers help answer many pressing health and health care questions, including how to prevent costly and life-threatening medical errors, how to help older Americans stay out of long-term care facilities and in their own homes, and how to improve the rate of vaccinations and immunizations to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Hah—you probably still thought nurses were the people who distracted you with a joke before stabbing a needle in your tricep. Get with it, dude. One of America's biggest foundations has the dough to get stars from the scrubs crowd fancy degrees and see to it that they're testifying to Congress one day. 

It's Dr. Nurse to you.

In effect, RWJF is raising the bar for how it thinks about nursing, replacing its earlier efforts with a bigger, deeper-pocketed program that provides $75,000 over three years to each recipient. The new program aims to tap up to 50 nurses per year.

That’s what RWJF said back when it announced the program, anyway, but when it raised the curtain last month on this year’s class of 16—yep, 16—scholars, it appeared that RWJF is taking this FNS business in baby steps. Hey, we get it: No revolution ever happens overnight.

Next year, the foundation promises, it will anoint up to 75 grantees—that’s a change from what they promised initially, and we think it has to do with RWJF’s recruitment of partners to help fund a few extra scholars:


  • Independence Foundation
  • Johnson & Johnson Services
  • Ascension Health
  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  • North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System
  • Rhode Island Foundation

Adding partners is a game changer, there is no doubt. Perhaps RWJF has had to retool some aspects of the FNS program, ramping up the number of expected awardees while grappling with the complexities of making the program more cooperative.

Whatever the reason, it’s definitely a surprise, but it comes with the promise of an even bigger program than initially expected. Eventually.