Recognizing the critical role qualified nursing faculty play in graduating new nurses, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield created Project RN, offering nurses willing to commit to teaching for three years the funds to complete a graduate degree.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” says Jena Pauli, RN, BSN, a stipend recipient who began a master’s of nursing program this fall at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Nursing sparked Pauli’s interest in becoming an educator, but monthly bills and a mortgage made the transition nearly impossible until Project RN.
CareFirst of Owings Mills, Md., will provide 14 nurses with a $40,000 annual stipend for two years to cover tuition, books, and living expenses. The $1.12 million, three-year program began in 2007 with eight nurses. Six more RNs began their studies this year. The nurses have committed to teach for three years within CareFirst’s service area, which covers Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and Maryland.
“We know the key role nurses play in healthcare delivery and promoting the best possible care,” says Jon Shematek, MD, senior vice president and chief medical director at CareFirst, which funds activities associated with improving quality of care. “We wanted to provide a financial grant to nurses so they would be able to cut back on some of their other responsibilities and be able to devote time to advancing their nursing education and getting a graduate degree in a shorter period of time.”
Virginia Baker, RN, BSN, began her master’s program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore last fall and looks forward to educating future generations.
“Without the scholarship, I would not be going back to school, because I would not have assumed that kind of debt,” Baker says. “The scholarship was everything, helping me pursue my dream and goal of becoming an educator.”
CareFirst completed a Nursing Shortage Analysis in 2007 that revealed the extent of the region’s nursing shortage. The study found by 2020 most of the geographic area served by CareFirst will have only two-thirds of the RNs it needs, with Washington, D.C., having only half the required nurses. The faculty vacancy rate in baccalaureate and higher-degree programs is about 8%, up 32% since 2002. The company considered supporting the education of additional faculty members a sustainable solution to mitigating the nursing shortage.
Eight universities in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia region are participating in the program. The schools select the recipients and administer the stipends, mostly provided to master’s degree students.
The University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore took a different approach, offering the funds to nurses in its doctor of nursing practice program. Robin Newhouse, RN, PhD, CNAA, BC, CNOR, assistant dean of the DNP program at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, says few funding sources exist for DNP students and this assures preparation of faculty at the highest education level.
University of Maryland DNP student Fran Valle, RN, MS, CRNP, says she always wanted to teach. Project RN gave her the opportunity to reduce her work schedule, concentrate on her studies, and finish a doctoral degree within two years.
“The person and practitioner I am today is related to the professors I had in school, and I’d like to be able to pass that on to my future colleagues that’s a gift and my responsibility,” Valle says. “Project RN is an incredible innovation to address the nursing shortage by filling nursing faculty positions.”
Debra Anscombe Wood, RN, is a freelance writer.
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