Amid more than two decades of nursing, including many years spent caring for some of the most critical patients at Baltimores MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, Jennifer Gunter, MSN, RN, CCRN, CHEN, always has tried to help nursing colleagues gain experience and knowledge and improve their skills.
That desire to help others led her to earn a masters degree from Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. She is now teaching in clinical settings for a local community college and in the RN-to-BSN program at NDMU, helping RN candidates get their start and obtain their BSN degrees.
My passion has always been education, but I always thought it would be in a clinical setting, like here at the hospital, never in academia, she said. Yet, here I am, teaching in a classroom.
Nurse educatorsJennifer Gunter, RN
In December 2013, Gunter became one of two dozen nursing educators to head to classrooms in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., after earning a graduate degree with help from CareFirsts Project RN program. CareFirst, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, provides health insurance to more than 3.4 million people in and around Washington, D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia.
Launched by CareFirst in 2007, the goal of Project RN is to help nurses committed to education gain the masters and doctoral degrees they need to become teachers, who in turn will teach the next generation of nurses, according to Maria Tildon, CareFirsts senior vice president of public policy and community affairs.
We researched the issues surrounding the lack of qualified nurses and discovered schools throughout the country were facing a shortage of qualified nurse educators, Tildon said.
Through Project RN, CareFirst provides $80,000 stipends over three years to students seeking their advanced degrees at a dozen schools in the Washington, D.C. area. Student recipients are selected by the schools. Upon completing their degrees, Project RN grant recipients are expected to work for at least three years as a nurse educator in an academic setting in the region.
‘A perfect fit’Phyllis Morris-Griffith, RN
For Anthony Cerniglia, BSN, RN, of Baltimore, who is pursuing a masters degree through Project RN at Towson University in Towson, Md., teaching in an academic setting seemed like the perfect fit.
After working as a nurse for four years, Cerniglia said he began transitioning from the bedside to clinical education, and intended to pursue his masters degree. Towsons decision to award him a Project RN scholarship was key to allowing him to do so without worrying about the financial aspects.
Phyllis Morris-Griffith, BSN, RN, MHA, a doctoral candidate at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said Project RN will enable her to successfully complete her transition from a long career as a nursing executive to academia. Having worked for three decades in various clinical and leadership roles at hospitals in both urban and rural settings, and most recently as a consultant and surveyor for The Joint Commission, Morris-Griffith said she observed healthcare organizations struggling with the challenge of implementing and complying with industry standards.
I found myself spending lots of time teaching how to implement standards and measure for quality, Morris-Griffith said. I realized I need to be teaching.
After returning to school in 2010, she applied for a Project RN scholarship, and won it amid CareFirsts latest disbursement of grant awards in 2014.
I had so many projects going on, Morris-Griffith said. Project RN has afforded me the opportunity to focus 100% on the completion of my degree, and on moving ahead with the next steps of my career.
Gunter and Cerniglia said Project RN helped them financially to continue to pursue their education.
I wouldnt have been able to afford to go to school if I didnt have that grant, Gunter said.
Cerniglia said he is grateful to Project RN for opening the gateway to his career goals.
I aim to eventually be involved in the higher education/academia setting, or in a position that will enable me the opportunity to continue to have a positive impact on the field of nursing and patient care, Cerniglia said. For me, nursing has been a journey, and I have just begun.
Jonathan Bilyk is a freelance writer.