$14M Gift to UVA School of Nursing Increases Access, Addresses Nurse, Nurse Faculty Shortages 

$14M Gift to UVA School of Nursing Increases Access, Addresses Nurse, Nurse Faculty Shortages 

The University of Virginia’s School of Nursing received a new $14 million commitment from longtime benefactors Joanne and Bill Conway of Washington, D.C., a gift that amplifies their previous transformational support, which now totals $49 million.

The Conways’ generosity will enable the school to reduce the cost of nursing education for students; offer financial support and scholarships to Clinical Nurse Leader master’s students who are pivoting from other professions into nursing, and take aim at the nation’s severe nursing shortage, a challenge intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The first-ever cohort of 24 students in the accelerated BSN program, who began their studies in May and have begun their first clinical rotations this fall. Photo credit: Christine Kueter, UVA School of Nursing

Supporting the School of Nursing

“Our goal of supporting the School of Nursing is twofold,” says Bill Conway. “To enable greater access to a quality education and address the critical nursing shortage.”

The Conways’ latest gift will provide at least 175 need- and eligibility-based scholarships to graduate and undergraduate students to cover tuition, school fees, room and board, and books. It will also fund scholarships specifically for Clinical Nurse Leader master’s students who have transitioned to nursing from other careers, and doctoral students who plan to become future nursing professors and nurse scientists.

With a wave of nurse faculty retirements expected over the next decade and the average age of a nursing professor between about 51 and 63, nursing schools cannot address the nation’s nurse shortage without fortifying the pipeline of doctorally prepared educators to teach them.

“Bill’s and Joanne’s extraordinary generosity comes at a critical moment, as our country faces an unprecedented nursing shortage,” says UVA President Jim Ryan. “Their latest gift will enable more students to pursue nursing degrees at UVA, removing barriers and offering important support for students. I’m incredibly grateful for the Conways’ ongoing commitment to the School of Nursing and the nursing profession.”

Educating the Next Generation of Nurses

“Nurses are essential to our nation, as they are on the front lines of patient care,” says Dr. K. Craig Kent, chief executive officer of UVA Health and executive vice president for health affairs at the University. “They are pivotal to reducing health inequities and ensuring better health for our communities. We are grateful to the Conways for their vision and generosity in helping us educate the next generation of nurses.”

The Conways’ previous contributions have expanded the capacity to educate more nurses and enhanced access to the School of Nursing’s RN-to-B.S.N. program. This included establishing satellite sites in Richmond and Northern Virginia, fueling the growth of the school’s highly ranked Clinical Nurse Leader program, providing significant support for its Mary Morton Parsons Clinical Simulation Learning Center, and contributing to a flexible pool of scholarships.

“Today, we nurses are more visible, listened to, and needed than ever before,” says Marianne Baernholdt, Dean and Sadie Heath Cabaniss, Professor of Nursing at the UVA School of Nursing. “I am grateful that Bill and Joanne Conway’s continued support will allow us to educate even more skilled, compassionate nurses while supporting the pipeline of future nursing faculty members. This work will enhance our ability to address the needs of our communities for years to come.”

MSN Student/Environmentalist: Ignoring Climate Change No Longer an Option for a Nurse

MSN Student/Environmentalist: Ignoring Climate Change No Longer an Option for a Nurse

How often – and how well – do nursing programs teach lessons about the impact that climate exerts on health? And as more of us are exposed to and sickened by toxins, polluted air, unsafe drinking water, and a lack of access to basic health care – not to mention the economic, geographic and social effects of rising tides, stronger storms and predictably unpredictable weather – should climate lessons be mandatory for clinicians?

“In public and environmental health,” University of Virginia MSN student Amelia Kirby, BSN, RN explained, “that Venn diagram, that overlay, is really close.”

Kirby began her professional life working in nonprofits before heading to nursing school in spring 2020, just as COVID struck. Two years later, Kirby – who on May 22 earns a master’s in nursing through the UVA’s Clinical Nurse Leader program – says it couldn’t have happened any other way. And the environmental causes she embraced since childhood continue to flavor her nursing and determination to do good for both the planet and its human residents.

“I thought entering health care would be the end [of my environmentalism], but it’s turned out to be quite the opposite,” Kirby said. “There are a lot of people in nursing and medicine who care really deeply about the planet, and they’re motivated to change things. It’s very buoying to see how many people are interested in this.”

A climate and health conference in early 2021 first brought Kirby into contact with UVA nursing professors Tracy Kelly, Emma Mitchell and Kathryn Reid, champions of the Nurses’ Climate Challenge, which offers tools, resources and support for faculty committed to teaching climate and health lessons in their courses.

As Kirby’s environmentally minded connections multiplied, so did her ideas and determination to act. Over the last year, she led in developing a Planetary Health Report Card tool for measuring nursing schools’ planetary awareness. The work has presented speaking opportunities at conferences, and landed a national award and other applause from national nursing and environmental groups.

The first Planetary Health Report Card tool was created in 2019 by a group of University of California, San Francisco medical students to assess across five metrics about the climate consciousness of medical programs.

Following a similar model, Kirby, fellow clinical nurse leader student Alyssa Dimatulac, and a team of nursing students from the University of Minnesota, the University of Brighton, the University of Lancaster, and Germany’s Esslinger Science and Health College compiled their own tool to assess nursing programs’ environmental mindedness across curricula (how well and how often nursing courses embed topics of climate’s impact on health), day-to-day sustainability practices, student support, community impacts and interdisciplinary research. She hopes the tool ultimately becomes a commonplace way for prospective students to assess programs that align with their personal values.

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