A new, $5 million commitment from Washington-area financier Bill Conway and his wife, Joanne, will transform the Clinical Nurse Leader master’s degree program at the University of Virginia School of Nursing and open new opportunities for students. It will also exert an important impact on the nursing workforce of tomorrow as it widens the enrollment capacity and diversity of this novel program, geared for individuals looking to pivot into nursing from other professions.
The gift, to be made over five years, will fund need-based scholarships for students in the Clinical Nurse Leader program and provide faculty support and operational funding for the program. Fortified by the Conways’ gift, the program will double in size from 48 to 96 students.
The Clinical Nurse Leader program is the only master’s-entry program in Virginia that enables students with a bachelor’s degree in another field to enter the nursing profession on a fast track. The accelerated, 24-month master’s degree program prepares graduates to provide high-quality, safe, evidence-based and compassionate care and to lead quality improvement efforts for optimal outcomes with patients, families, communities and systems.
“We are very grateful for this generous gift that will enable us to create more 21st-century nurses who can provide superior care to patients and families,” said Dorrie Fontaine, Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing, dean of the U.Va. School of Nursing and associate chief nursing officer at U.Va.’s Medical Center. “Through this program, Clinical Nurse Leader students receive special training in leadership, inter-professional education and resiliency that allows them to thrive in the nursing field – and the skillset to inspire their peers and colleagues to do the same.”
The new Conway Scholars Program will address the unique financial needs of Clinical Nurse Leader students and foster a more diverse student population. While the program’s curriculum offers an intense, cost-effective and efficient way to create new master’s-prepared nurses, it prevents students from holding part-time jobs. That creates the prospect of accumulating debt, which may provide a deterrent to those with few financial resources.
The Conway Scholars Program will open the door to a nursing career for students in financial need, including those who may be traditionally underrepresented in the nursing profession. Creating diversity in the student body will eventually diversify the profession to better reflect the multiplicity generally found across health care teams and patient populations.
“It’s increasingly critical that our nurses look like, and relate to, the people they’re working with and treating,” Fontaine said.
In addition to offering opportunities to students with financial need, the Conway Scholars Program carries a commitment to underserved and vulnerable patient populations. Every Conway Scholar will be expected to complete a minimum of 45 hours of community service at a designated area of high need.
To keep pace with the increased Clinical Nurse Leader enrollment, the Conway gift will also support the recruitment of four to six full-time, tenure-track professors.
“The Conway Scholars program helps the University and the school fulfill our mission of graduating students who will impact the world for the better,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “These Clinical Nurse Leader students will be actively engaged in improving the health of individuals and their communities, and lending energy and support to an expanding profession that needs compassionate, exceptionally educated individuals like never before.”
In years three to five, the gift will support expansion of the Clinical Nurse Leader program to establish a new partner clinical site in Virginia, specifically targeting areas with vulnerable populations. This, in turn, is expected to increase Clinical Nurse Leader enrollment from these regions.
“My wife and I believe that, with the high demand for nurses, people who have these degrees will always be able to get secure, well-paying jobs,” Bill Conway said, “We are glad to make this investment at the University of Virginia, which will help create more new nurses and remove some of the financial barriers to entering the profession.”
Conway is co-chief executive and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, an international financing firm based in Washington, D.C.