The following appears in the New Jersey Nursing Initiative newsletter dated June 7, 2012:
Three years ago, Maria Torchia LoGrippo got the news of a lifetime: She had been selected to receive a prestigious scholarship that put her on course to achieving her professional dreams.
But it wasn’t until later that she realized the deeper value of the scholarship, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI). In addition to a full tuition waiver in the doctoral nursing program at Seton Hall University, a stipend of $50,000 a year, and a new laptop computer, LoGrippo discovered later that she would also be learning from the crème de la crème of academic nursing.
When LoGrippo—a member of NJNI’s Faculty Preparation Program’s inaugural cohort in 2009—attended the first program conference that fall, she was surprised, and delighted, to see that Patricia Benner, PhD, RN, FAAN, a noted nursing educator and author of From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Nursing Practice, would be giving the keynote address.
“I was truly honored and humbled when I received the scholarship,” said LoGrippo, MSN, RN. “But when I went to our first conference and found out such a highly acclaimed nurse leader would be speaking to us, I thought , ‘Wow. This is such an amazing opportunity I was given. I really have to live up to it. I really have an enormous responsibility to give back to the profession.’”
Benner was not the only national nurse leader to address the 29 members of that inaugural NJNI cohort, and her speech hasn’t been the only highlight of the program.
Over the past two years, LoGrippo has had the opportunity to present testimony on the nurse faculty shortage to members of the New Jersey State Legislature; present a “poster” on the importance of teaching students the business of health care at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s (AACN) 2012 Faculty Practice Pre-Conference in San Antonio, Texas; and attend a health policy conference and educate members of Congress in Washington, D.C., on March 21, 2010—the same day that the health care reform bill was enacted. “It was a great opportunity,” she said. “I felt very fortunate to be in our nation’s capital at such an important time.”
These opportunities were made possible by RWJF, which has joined the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation to support NJNI, a multi-year, $30 million project working to transform nursing education in the state. Its goal is to ensure that New Jersey has the well prepared, diverse nurse faculty it needs to educate nurses to meet the demand for health and health care in the 21st century.
One key facet of the initiative is NJNI’s Faculty Preparation Program, which is helping 61 New Jersey Nursing Scholars advance their education in preparation for nurse faculty positions.
Many, like LoGrippo, would not have been able to pursue advanced degrees had it not been for the program’s support. Before enrolling in the program, LoGrippo was a full-time faculty associate at the College of Nursing at Seton Hall University and had been encouraged by the school’s dean and other faculty members to earn her doctorate. A PhD, she was told, would allow her to teach at a higher level and secure funding for her research priorities.
But she could not give up her job to advance her education because her family relied on her income to make ends meet. Attending school on nights and weekends was also not on option; she needed to tend to her two young children during those hours.
The scholarship, however, enabled her to give up her job and go to school on a full-time basis and continue to support her family. It proved invaluable a year into the program, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and LoGrippo assumed responsibility for her care while her husband ran for local office.
“If I had been trying to do this and go to school and work at the same time, I would have had to drop out,” she said. “I could not have done this without the support of my colleagues and this program.”
Researching Ways Nurses Can Narrow Health Disparities
As a professor, LoGrippo will be working to improve health care in two key ways. First, by training the next generation of nurses and nurse educators, she will help alleviate a looming nurse shortage. And second, by conducting research into ways nurses can improve access to care, she hopes to narrow health disparities based on race and class.
LoGrippo is currently researching levels of trust between pregnant women and certified nurse-midwives. She hopes to gather evidence on how trusting relationships between certified nurse-midwives and their patients lead to positive outcomes for mothers and their babies.
That, she said, could be a boon to the millions of women who live in poverty and who are more likely to have pre-term, low birthweight babies. “Nurse-midwives have access to women who are living in poor communities,” she explained. “If nurse-midwives are highly trusted, then the expectant mothers they care for may experience lower levels of prenatal stress and have better outcomes.”
In addition to her studies and her research, the NJNI Faculty Preparation Program ensures that LoGrippo is actively engaged in activities that advance her role in teaching and scholarship. To that end, she helped found an organization to support doctoral nursing students at Seton Hall University. And she participated in a teaching practicum that helped teach an introductory online course for doctoral students on the philosophy of science at Rutgers University.
Now, she’s writing her dissertation proposal. She plans to graduate next year and launch the next phase of her career as a faculty member at a nursing school in New Jersey.
The scholarship was “a dream come true,” she told New Jersey legislators in 2009. It allowed her to advance her education, continue to support her family, better meet her caregiving responsibilities and position herself to get the job of her dreams.
It’s true on a deeper level as well. Becoming a nurse is a dream she had as a little girl, LoGrippo says, and it’s one shared by her mother, who had worked for decades as a secretary in the office of an obstetrician-gynecologist. “My mother never managed to realize her own dream to become a nurse, because of her limited education and finances. But given this amazing opportunity from the RWJF, I will be able to achieve my goal to become a nursing professor.”