NIH grant creates pipeline for minority students to pursue PhDs in nursing at CWRU

A new five-year, $1.17 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will prepare 20 nurses from underrepresented ethnic groups to pursue doctorate degrees at Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.

The NIH-funded “Bridges to the Doctorate” training program will create a pipeline of Master of Science in Nursing students (MSN) from Cleveland State University and Ursuline College to enter the Frances Payne Bolton PhD program.

Ultimately, the goal is more highly trained nurse educators from underrepresented ethnic groups on faculty and working in leadership roles at hospitals.

“Hospitals serve people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, and more nurses from underrepresented groups targeted in this project are needed to reflect the patient population,” said program leader Elizabeth Madigan, associate dean for academic affairs and the Independence Foundation Professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. “And that starts with having a more diverse faculty that can serve as role models for future nurses.”

Fewer than 3,000 nurses (less than 2 percent nationally) have obtained doctorate degrees, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Future of Nursing Scholars.” And minorities make up less than 12 percent of the faculty at nursing schools nationally.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that nursing students from underrepresented ethnic groups (African-American, Hispanic) actually begin pursuing higher education degrees at higher rates than whites, but get stalled somewhere along the line in their pursuit of doctorate degrees, Madigan said.

The Bridges to the Doctorate program introduces MSN students to the PhD program at Case Western Reserve and allows them to begin building a network of researchers and educators. The program will provide MSN students with:

  • Two mentors (one each from their home school and CWRU).
  • Research opportunities, with support for related research materials.
  • Compensation for research assistantships, working up to 20 hours with Case Western Reserve researchers.
  • Support to attend scientific conferences.

Madigan is collaborating with Patricia Sharpnack (a Case Western Reserve alumna), dean of the Breen School of Nursing at Ursuline College, and Maureen Mitchell, director of the Graduate Program at CSU.

Family responsibilities and economics often delay or prevent the pursuit of doctorate degrees, Madigan said. Many potential candidates work as registered nurses (RN) while attending school.

Research assistants aren’t paid as much as RNs, which is a disincentive, she said. The three participating institutions hope to encourage more MSN students to take on research projects by nearly matching hourly RN salaries.

Two students each from Ursuline and CSU will enter the program this fall, earn MSN degrees and then apply to the Case Western Reserve PhD program. Four more MSN students will be added to the program each year.

If successful in recruiting four students for the first year, the university could receive $234,485 annually from the National Institute of General Medical Services of the NIH.