Get All the Facts About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
P.O. Box 2316
College Road East and Route 1
Princeton, N.J. 08543-2316
(888) 631-9989

The foundation began after its namesake, the man behind the Johnson & Johnson medical empire, left the majority of his estate to begin what would become the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of Americans. Working with a variety of organizations and individuals, the foundation funds research, education and other efforts at hospitals; medical, nursing and public schools; hospices; professional associations; research organizations; government agencies and community organizations.

Reducing Disparities in Health Care

Among the foundation’s key areas of focus are addressing disparities and public health issues and building human capital in the health care workplace. Last fall, the foundation announced three national initiatives—and dedicated $23 million—aimed at eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care treatment. Their goal is to reduce disparities in the next three years by examining patient care and current health systems and by making suggestions for improved care.

Researchers at George Washington University, the University of Chicago and Harvard University are leading the three programs. They will focus on cardiac care received by minority patients and fund various organizations to focus on disparities in health plans, hospitals and community clinics. They will also collect and analyze results from other research on disparities to inform efforts at improving care and technical processes in health systems.

Among other reports, the foundation’s health research publications dealt with covered care at big-city hospitals, the effects of anthrax on those exposed, how federal health dollars are being spent in the states, and protecting public health in the face of bioterrorism.

Building Human Capital

Not all of the foundation’s work is research-related, however. One area allied health students and professionals should keep an eye on is the foundation’s focus on building human capital. Robert Wood Johnson funds training and education programs for doctors, nurses and other health care workers. In 2005, the foundation hosted a series of one-day informational workshops, Frontline Workforce Development: Promoting Partnerships and Emerging Practices in Health and Health Care, to share research and tips for the advancement of the allied health workforce.

The foundation has particularly focused on those professionals who receive the smallest compensation, such as nurse aides, home health aides, psychiatric technicians, and others because, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Web site, these health care workers are “often the first and most frequent point of contact for patients and clients. Despite their importance, these essential workers are often poorly paid and have limited opportunities for training, advancement and reward.”


One of the programs in this area aims to train workers in hospitals and other facilities so that employees at all levels—from housekeeping to nurses—can receive continuing education to encourage their advancement.

Addressing Needs

Like many organizations and schools interested in addressing both health disparities among their patients, as well as career advancement and adequate pay for their allied health care workers, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also values assisting their minority students and professionals to receive the training they need to be successful in the field of allied health.

“The biggest challenge is the anti-affirmative action climate in this country,” says Contance Pechura, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Because of the Supreme Court decisions in the Michigan cases, it puts any program that’s based on selection by ethnicity or race in very murky legal territory.” As a result, the foundation has expanded its criteria for some programs to include economically disadvantaged rural areas.

The Basics

The Robert Wood Johnson foundation maintains an informative and up-to-date Web site ( that you can check out for interesting developments in research and current health care and public health trends. Visit the site to stay informed or to check its “Job Opportunities” section under “About Us.”

Web site:

Number of grants and contracts made in 2004: 823

Total amount awarded in 2004: $249.3 million

Grad School or Bust… Financing Your Future

So you’ve decided to go to graduate school. Great! Now all you have to do is figure out how you are going to pay for it. This can be a daunting task. The cost of graduate education has skyrocketed at universities across the nation and advanced degrees in the allied health disciplines are no exception. But the amount of financial aid available has also increased to a record $74 billion. Your goal is to figure out how to tap into this huge resource. As with most things, there are no easy answers. The cost of graduate education, the types of aid available and the resources available change from discipline to discipline, state-to-state and school-to-school.

However, the task will be far less daunting if you can break it into its parts. Here are a series of questions and answers designed to give you a brief overview and some quick guidelines for seeking financial aid for graduate education. Think of it as a starting point. The rest of the work is up to you. But it’s work well worth the effort.

I allready applied for financial aid as an undergraduate. Will it be any different applying for aid in Graduate School?

The application process really isn’t any different, but there are differences in what’s available. Pell Grants (the largest federal grant program) and other federal grant programs are not available to graduate students. Though it varies from state-to-state, graduate students are usually ineligible for grants from the state as well. However, as a graduate student you may be eligible to a source of funding not available to your less learned associates: graduate assistantships. These often come with a tuition waiver and a small stipend (usually around $2,500 per semester).

One more thing to keep in mind: parent information will not be taken into consideration when applying for financial aid. By virtue of a bachelor’s degree, you are considered independent, even if you still live at home.

What will my graduate degree cost?

As you might expect, the cost of a graduate education varies greatly depending on the degree you are seeking, the institution you are attending and the state were it resides. And remember, you need to think about more than tuition and fees when calculating education cost. There are the books and lab supplies that you must buy in addition to expenses for food, shelter and transportation—all of which you must pay for without the benefit of a full-time job. The financial aid or admissions office at the school you plan on attending can tell you what the cost of tuition and books will be. Cost of living information can be gathered from such Web sites as and, but the best sources for this information are friends or family who already live in the area. Graduate education does not come cheap. Experts contacted for this article gave figures ranging between $30,000 and $60,000 for the total cost of a graduate education in an allied health field; perhaps significantly higher at very prestigious private institutions.

What types of financial aid are available?

There are dozens of potential ways to fund your graduate education ranging from scholarships and fellowships to employer assistance. Below are the highlights of a few of the more prominent methods to help you get started in your search.

Scholarships and Fellowships

Both scholarships and fellowships do not have to be repaid. Scholarships typically cover all or part of tuition and fees. Fellowships cover tuition and fees and include a stipend to cover a good portion of your living expenses as well. Institutional scholarships and fellowships are offered through most graduate schools. These are usually based on financial need and/or academic performance. At some institutions, scholarships and fellowships will last for your entire stay in graduate school; at others, you must reapply each year. Since this is free money, the competition is often fierce, but it never hurts to try.

And don’t stop your search at the college or program you plan on attending. A major source of both scholarships and fellowships often overlooked by students is third-party aid. Each year, graduate students receive millions of dollars in aid from religious organizations, foundations, labor unions, businesses and local groups. Students and professional organizations connected with your field of study are another good source.

These scholarships and fellowships may be given based on ethnicity, academic achievement, hobbies, talents or a combination thereof. In addition, national fellowships are available, such as the Fulbright, National Research Foundation and National Science Foundation. Information for each can be found on their respective Web sites. (See Sidebar).


Like fellowships and scholarships, grants are a form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid. But unlike scholarships and fellowships, they are only need-based, and they are given out by the federal or state government. Of specific concern to you, graduate students are ineligible for federal grants as well as virtually all state grant programs. Check with the financial aid officer at the school you plan on attending to be sure.



Many graduate students become teaching or research assistants. Teaching assistants help professors by teaching labs, grading papers and meeting with undergraduates. Research assistants oversee labs and assist professors on projects. In exchange, assistantships provide stipends and/or tuition reimbursement. In some programs assistantships are awarded to every student, in others they are awarded according to academic performance. Not all graduate programs offer assistantships, especially in programs were the terminal degree (the minimum degree needed to work as a professional) is a master’s or above.

Employer Assistance

Occasionally, your current employer will pay for all or part of your graduate education, as long you can show that your coursework will contribute to the goals of the company. Within some high-demand fields, even if you’re not currently employed, you might be able to find an employer who will agree to pay for all or part of your post-graduate education if you sign an agreement to work for them for a specified amount of time upon graduation. Check with your supervisor or the human resources department at your current place of employment. It never hurts to ask.

Student Loans

Most graduate students must take out student loans to pay for at least part of their education. Loans fall into two categories: subsidized (loans awarded on the basis of need, which do not accumulate interest before you begin repayment) and unsubsidized (loans that accumulate interest from the time you receive them until they’re paid in full). There are a variety of loans available to graduate students including Stafford, Perkins and Federal Family Education loans, among others. To find out which ones you qualify for and which ones best serve your needs and purposes, see your local financial aid administrator.

How much can (and should) I borrow?

Graduate students are eligible to borrow $8,500 of subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford Loans and up to an additional $10,000 of unsubsidized Stafford loans per academic year. For their entire graduate education, graduate students may borrow up to $138,500. If you qualify for Federal Perkins Loans, you can borrow up to $5,000 each year and $30,000 total. The answer to how much you should borrow is easy: As little as possible. Even at reduced interest rates, student loans can be a huge burden after you graduate. With that in mind, only borrow when you need to and then borrow only what is necessary. Don’t fall into the trap of borrowing extra money to pay for the car or vacation you always wanted. There will be plenty of time to buy those things after you get out of school and land your first job. Most financial aid offices have online student loan calculators that will take into account such factors as amount borrowed, interest rate, and the estimated salary for your profession and tell you what your payments will be, the cost of your total payments and what you can afford. (See, for an example of these calculators.)

Where do I get started?

Simply make an appointment with the financial aid office of the school you plan on attending. Applying for financial aid can be an intimidating and confusing task, and it’s nice to have an expert help guide you through the process. But you should also do a little research on your own. All of the information available to your financial aid officer is available to you on the Web. Or visit the financial aid Web site of the school you plan on attending for information or financial aid options specific to your program and state. One way or another, the money is out there to pay for your graduate education. Ultimately, it’s up to you to go out and find it.

UF College of Nursing Receives Over $1 Million for Minority Health Research

The University of Florida (UF) College of Nursing in Gainesville found itself $1,531,000 richer this year after receiving three separate grants to pursue research in cancer, asthma, infant mortality and other health problems that disproportionately affect minorities.

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Health Professions, Division of Nursing, came $831,000 to help the school expand its nurse-midwifery program, with an emphasis on reducing infant mortality. The National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) gave $670,000 to the college to create an interdisciplinary Biobehavioral Research Center. And the American Cancer Society is awarding a $30,000 scholarship to Carmen Rodriguez, ARNP, MSN, a clinical nursing instructor at the college, to help finance her studies related to evaluating pain in elderly cancer patients.



“The infant mortality rate . . . ranges between 8.3 and 16.8 deaths per 1,000 live births for whites and between 12.2 and 28.7 for nonwhites,” reports Alice H. Poe, CNM, assistant professor and coordinator of the UF nurse-midwifery program, citing the results of studies done at the school’s program sites in Jacksonville, Tampa and Gainesville. Compare these numbers with nationwide figures of six deaths per 1,000 live births for white infants versus 13.7 deaths for racial and ethnic minority infants and it’s easy to see why UF believes in the necessity of finding ways to reduce this serious disparity for minority families living in medically underserved areas, particularly in Florida.


The college’s nurse-midwifery program will use its federal grant money to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds, medically underserved areas and underrepresented minority groups to seek careers as nurse-midwives. An educator/recruiter will be hired with the sole purpose of visiting culturally diverse and medically underserved areas, local elementary and high schools, and colleges with large minority enrollments to discuss the advantages of this career.

“Nurse-midwives from such populations often have a special sensitivity and awareness of the needs of minority patients and are more likely to seek employment serving these groups,” says Poe.

The three-year Advanced Nursing Education grant will expand the UF midwifery program through its traditional master’s degree program, the accelerated RN-to-BSN/MSN program and a cooperative degree program with the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The Biobehavioral Research Center’s initial undertaking will be to conduct four new federally funded pilot studies aimed at assessing the effectiveness of asthma education, as well as exploring the links between autism and diet, exercise and bone density, and herbal remedies and osteoarthritis. UF is one of only seven to nine colleges in the United States expected to receive the three-year NINR Nursing Research Exploratory Center Grant this year.
According to Carolyn Yucha, RN, PhD, associate dean for research at the UF College of Nursing, “the Biobehavioral Research Center will oversee pilot research studies with both biological and behavioral outcomes.The infrastructure of the new center will allow us to further develop the research program within the College of Nursing and help our investigators collect sufficient data to pursue specific areas of inquiry through other funding mechanisms in the future.”

Nurse researchers will work alongside co-investigators in biostatistics, exercise physiology, health education, medicine, nutrition, pharmacy, physical therapy, psychiatry and radiology.

Faculty member Carmen Rodriguez is one of only eight nurses in the country–and the only nurse in Florida–to receive this year’s American Cancer Society Scholarship in Cancer Nursing. Rodriguez, who is working on her doctorate in nursing at the University of South Florida, will use the funds to investigate the most effective method for evaluating pain in older patients with head or neck cancer and speech and language impairments.

“Health care providers working with patients with communication impairment face significant challenges when attempting to obtain information related to the measurement of pain,” explains Rodriguez. “Information obtained from this study will contribute to nursing knowledge and facilitate understanding of the experience and impact of pain on this special population.”

Graduate students pursuing doctoral study in cancer nursing are eligible for the American Cancer Society’s cancer nursing scholarships, which are awarded for up to four years with a stipend of $15,000 per year. Rodriguez will receive two years of funding.

To Be Continued: Creating Sustainability for Grant-Funded Programs

During the golden age of ‘60s soul music, one of Otis Redding’s most popular songs was “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now).” In this plaintive ballad, Otis sings about how his significant other’s love for him is fading away and is almost gone, yet his love for her continues to grow. How will he be able to carry on when she finally leaves him? “You’ve become a habit with me,” he laments. “With you my life has been so wonderful. I don’t want to stop now.”

Any nurse who has ever received a grant to fund a research project, nursing education program, minority nurse recruitment program or other important initiative can relate to what Otis was talking about. Few events rival the thrill of learning that your grant proposal has been funded. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of dollars will be supporting your dream. Your project will have proper staffing and good equipment. . .at least for a few years.

But what happens at the end of the grant? Will you be able to sustain your program after the original funding runs out? Or will you find yourself in the same situation as Otis, as he implores, “Please don’t make me stop now”?

The good news is that many programs that initially get their start through a grant award do find ways to continue. Some are able to find new funding sources to keep the program going. Others continue to receive money from the original source. For instance, Head Start began in 1965 as a pilot program in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. More than 40 years later, community-based organizations throughout the country are still receiving Head Start funds from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Capitalizing on Success

One example of a federally funded project that doesn’t intend to call it quits after its grant period ends is the BCC/HCA Specialty Nurse Training Program in southeast Florida. The program, a collaboration between Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) and Broward Community College (BCC) in Fort Lauderdale, provides specialty training in emergency and critical care nursing for RNs who are employees of local HCA hospitals.

The project, which began in 2005, was funded by a $2 million grant awarded through the President’s High Growth Job Training Initiative. (HCA actually received $4 million, which was divided between its Florida and Texas divisions.) Because of the area’s diverse population, the Florida program has succeeded in training a large number of minority nurses to become critical care or emergency nursing specialists. One third of the nurses who have completed the training are African American and another third are Hispanic.

The two-year grant ended on June 30, 2007. As this issue of Minority Nurse went to press, program administrators were awaiting word on their application for a grant extension. Regardless of whether or not this happens, they say, the specialty training will still go on.

“Once this grant started, we contacted [participating HCA] hospitals for feedback,” explains Alicia Hinton, BSN, RN, MBA, emergency department project manager at BCC. “They gave us input as to what they thought was needed and they saw how the students were doing on the floor. The hospitals looked at their resources and decided this program should continue.”

Some of the hospitals are now providing money to fund adjunct faculty for clinical training conducted in the hospitals. BCC continues to provide classroom instruction, T1 lines and college credit. Funds are still being sought for hiring a program secretary and a computer technician. The students’ tuition will be paid through the hospitals’ tuition reimbursement program.

The most likely factor in the continuation of this program is its success. The grant called for 88 nurses to be trained. Actually, 133 completed the training—an impressive 166% of the required enrollment. Then, grant administrators started surveying hospitals outside the HCA East Florida system.

“Hospital CEOs liked the program and they wanted it to continue. Students wanted the program to continue. With all that data to back it up, we were able to secure local funding [to help replace the federal funding],” says Charlene Ingwell, MSN, RN, workforce and organizational training director for HCA East Florida.

Hinton believes Broward Community College’s strong relationships with its clinical training partners were what made the difference. “Develop a close relationship with your hospital partners,” she advises. “Work with them in trying to determine the costs and needs of a program. Have an open dialogue at the very beginning so that you’ve got the hospitals’ buy-in at the end of the grant.”

Plan from Day One

One experienced grant reviewer agrees that the key to creating sustainability is to start planning for it at the very beginning, perhaps even before the grant is awarded.

“As people craft their applications, they need to consider how the program will continue after grant funding,” says Janice M. Phillips, PhD, RN, FAAN, a nurse researcher at the University of Chicago Hospitals. Prior to accepting her current position, Phillips was a grant program director at the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), where she reviewed grant applications for programs such as the Mentored Research Scientist Development Award for Minority Investigators (also known as the Minority K01 grant).

Phillips encourages grant seekers to consider a contingency plan when writing the grant proposal. Determine possible community partners and then involve those partners in program assessment. Clinical advisory boards are good places to start. You can find other partners by closely examining who will ultimately benefit from the research or services that will be made possible by the grant funding.

Being knowledgeable about funding sources is another important factor in keeping the money coming when the initial grant ends. If you haven’t already done so, become familiar with online resources like the Federal Register Web site and, which publish announcements of competitive grants funded by federal agencies. (See “Where the Money Is” sidebar.)

Networking with other grant writers in your field is another good way to learn about new funding opportunities. When attending conferences, listen closely to presentations and begin keeping a list of agencies that have funded programs and the type of programs funded. Then visit those agencies’ Web sites and sign up to receive requests for proposals (RFPs).

“Funds are so competitive now,” Phillips emphasizes. “You have to be constantly searching for new funding sources. The federal government’s resources may be limited and agencies may change their primary focus. That challenges everyone to be open to other sources.”

Flexibility Could Mean Funding

If you’re a nurse scientist whose grant is ending, would you be willing to alter your research goal slightly in order to find new funding sources that could keep your project going? For example, instead of spending 100% of your time investigating nursing interventions for Hispanic heart patients, could you spend part of your time assisting a pharmaceutical company in testing new drugs designed to prevent second heart attacks?

Flexibility can often make the difference between keeping doors open and having them close on you when the grant money is gone, according to Phillips. “You may have to rethink your research. People who are committed can juggle research with a little creativity,” she says. “Some drug companies might offer research funds depending on what they’re investigating. Specialty nursing organizations, such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, may be able to provide small pools of funding, and sometimes larger [grants in support of research or clinical projects].”


Phillips also recommends checking with large national philanthropic organizations. Private foundations, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, offer grants to support research, training programs and other projects in a broad range of areas related to health care, such as improving the health of vulnerable populations and increasing diversity in the health care workforce.

Sometimes flexibility is forced by the outcomes of a project. HIV/AIDS researcher Sheldon Fields, PhD, APRN, BC, FNP, AACRN, FNAP, FAANP, RN, is halfway through a federal grant that will run out in 2009, and he says he will be adjusting calls for new funding in accordance with the results of his work. Fields, who is an assistant professor and co-director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at the University of Rochester School of Nursing in Rochester, N.Y., was awarded a five-year Special Projects of National Significance grant from HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau to fund Project YEAH (Youth Empowerment Around HIV), an initiative designed to increase HIV testing and treatment among young men of color who have sex with men.

“This is a research grant that has a community-based program and whether it keeps going or not depends on whether the community wants it. It’s still too early to know what will happen,” Fields says.

He adds that it’s very possible some aspects of the project will find a way to continue while others may not. “This project has many parts. Some are working well and what actually works is what needs to be sustained. When you have outcome-based research, it’s hard to plan if you don’t know what the major outcomes will be until year three or four.”

Fields hopes that HRSA will offer follow-up funding for elements of the project that are working. Those elements include a group-level prevention intervention and an Internet outreach program. If additional HRSA funds don’t materialize, he may seek funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute.

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

Phillips reminds researchers that grant-funded projects don’t have to be isolated in one ivory tower. She recommends partnering with researchers at other institutions to share resources.

“Multi-site studies allow you to pool expenses,” she says, “and they also give you a chance to collaborate. You may have a piece of the population [being studied], say an urban area, while another person may have systems support or access to labs.”

Phillips, whose current research specialty is breast cancer in African Americans, believes a collaborative effort may also make a study more comprehensive. “I may be  [based in] Chicago, but I want to know about rural women. That’s one of the advantages of multi-site partnerships.”

She suggests looking for fellow researchers with common ideas and interests.

“Starting out with a multi-site or multi-organization project may be a little much until you get acclimated to research. More seasoned researchers are open to this because if they have a particular methodology, they want other people to use their work. It gives more credibility.”

Issues like intellectual property and authorship should be discussed early in the process so that everyone is clear about these arrangements before the research even begins, Phillips adds.

Look Within

Making friends within your organization can pay dividends if a program finds itself in a financial crunch when the grant money runs out, says nursing educator Jacque Dolberry, RN, MS. She is director of the RN/BSN program at Salish Kootenai College, a tribal college located in Pablo, Mont., on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

“This college has been very supportive of the Nursing Department. We have had a couple of years where the administration had to pick up some recruitment and retention [staff] salaries so we could get another grant funded,” she recalls.

How do you approach your institution’s president or chancellor about gaining funding support when resources are scarce? Dolberry recommends focusing on the bottom line. “You always need to constantly justify the cost and the need for a [good] faculty/student ratio. Be able to talk about [issues like] the need for more technology. It’s a process of continuing to educate the college administration.

“Part of it is being able to show them what kind of impact the lack of a [faculty] position might have,” she continues. “How will the number of degrees your program hands out affect the count across campus? You have to justify that you need a certain number of faculty in certain specialty areas to meet accreditation standards. Even if you decrease the student numbers, you still have to have the specialized faculty.”

Dolberry also notes that it’s easier to get buy-in from administration if the grant is closely in line with your organization’s mission and target audience. That may seem obvious, but some grant seekers can’t pass up any chance for money, regardless of whether or not the grant is a good match for their particular institution.

“You have to choose the ones that offer a good fit between the aim of the grant and the needs of your program,” she says. “You have to have support from all parts of the campus. That’s so much better than just writing for more money.”

Be Creative

The BCC/HCA Specialty Nurse Training Program grant is somewhat unusual in that it is a job skills training grant from the Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration (ETA), not a health-focused or nursing-specific grant from a health agency like HRSA. In other words, thinking outside the box can yield big results.

Dolberry has seen some nursing programs fill funding gaps by putting students and faculty members into practice. “[Our program] hasn’t gotten to this point yet, but I do know of one school that developed clinical sites to serve special populations. That enabled the school to secure funding for a faculty position,” she says. “I also know of academic health centers where nursing students do clinicals that serve the student population. The program receives reimbursement through private pay or Medicaid.”

Excellence in Nursing: The SAMHSA Minority Fellowship Program

Excellence in Nursing: The SAMHSA Minority Fellowship Program

What started as one grant then expanded to include other mental health professional associations, including the American Nurses Association, American Psychology Association, and American Psychiatric Association. The Minority Fellowship Program became a place where racially diverse mental health professionals could go to get support to pursue doctoral and postdoctoral study.

Today, through funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the American Nurses Association is able to offer the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP). It looks to encourage doctoral and post-doctoral training of minority nurses to help them become leaders in research, clinical practice, and academia. Fellows of the program have gone on to improve culturally competent mental health and substance abuse care across the United States.

“I think it’s extremely important to give encouragement to go into doctoral study,” says Willa Marlene Doswell, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., Chair of the MFP Advisory Committee and a member of the first class of fellows in 1975. Many minority nurses can’t or don’t know how to reach the inside track for research and publication at their home institutions, she says. The SAMHSA Minority Fellowship Program at the American Nurses Association provides the support they need to get ahead.

Over the years, the MFP has supported over 200 minority nurses while they look toward a doctoral education and beyond. Here are just a few of these inspiring nurses’ stories.

Marife C. Aczon-Armstrong, Ph.D., R.N.

A retired nurse from the Peace Corps convinced Marife she should pursue a career in nursing. She started by applying for the Associate Degree in Nursing program at a nearby community college. “I was placed on a wait list,” she says. “It was taking too long, so I decided to try the L.P.N. route.”

This strategy worked, as she was accepted right away. When she completed the program, Marife passed the NCLEX-PN exam. “Unlike my colleagues, I went straight into the B.S.N. program at Hawaii Pacific University instead of working as an LPN,” she says. “It paid off! By the time I completed the B.S.N. program, most nursing certification started requiring a B.S.N. degree as a criterion.”

After graduation, Marife went on to earn her Master of Science in Counseling Psychology at Chaminade University of Honolulu and a Master of Science in Nursing and doctorate in nursing at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. To complement her education, Marife was a member of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association and the Asian American Pacific Islander Nurses Association. Recently, she accepted a position at the University of Hawaii’s School of Nursing and will be a full time assistant professor in the fall.

With expertise in counseling, mental health, case management and utilization management, health insurance, diabetes education, medical/surgical nursing, and oncology nursing, Marife works to create a healthier, more compassionate community. She is an RN Case Manager in the Emergency Department and Clinical Decision Unit at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Marife is currently researching alcohol and substance abuse among patients with chronic illnesses. She started her work in substance abuse because she was tired of treating patients only for immediate problems. “We’re always rushing to get the patients in for triage and rushing to get them discharged,” she says. “I would like to fi nd a process to efficiently help them.” Marife sees substance abuse as an array of addictions, not only alcohol and illicit drugs. “It is about a human being trapped in a revolving door with nowhere to go.”

Her work has not only helped her grow academically, but as a nurse as well. Marife’s diverse spectrum of patients has allowed her to learn when to be gentle and when to give tough love, but she says her job has taught her to be nonjudgmental and to treat people equally. “I take care of the patient who has insurance the same way I take care of the homeless patient with no insurance,” she explains. Her greatest joy is seeing patients’ smiling faces as they wave goodbye, thanking her and her colleagues for taking good care of them.

Giving advice to nurses interested in helping mental health and substance abuse patients, Marife says, “Always be true to yourself and treat your patients with respect and dignity. This population knows if you are sincere. They are most likely willing to open up and receive help and assistance if you are sincere.”

Doris Hill, Ph.D., R.N., C.N.O.R.

Doris Hill has always enjoyed the sciences and working with a variety of people. She started out working at a bank, but after talking to people at her church who were in nursing, she realized it was the fi eld for her. When she and her husband relocated from the West Coast to the Midwest for his job, Doris saw the perfect opportunity to switch careers. She graduated from nursing school and began her work in the OR.

Doris Hill, Ph.D., R.N., C.N.O.R.

While working toward her B.S.N., Doris was encouraged by her professors to pursue a master’s degree. Not only did she get her M.S.N., but she followed it up with a doctorate in nursing from the University of Minnesota in 2005. Of her studies, Doris says, “I really felt a lot of pull toward diverse populations, minority populations.” Her dissertation was titled “Sense of Belonging as Connectedness to Selected Areas of Health and Traditional Practices in American Indians.”

Doris has a long-standing commitment to the health of minority populations, especially American Indian and Latino patients. Overall, Doris says she’d “like to see a decrease in health disparities,” and increased services for mental health patients and their families. She says nurses and other health care providers must learn and consider historical roots of trauma and the cultural needs of their patients. She stresses the importance of advocating and joining committees. “Take what you learn and use that to benefit the health of minority populations,” she says. “Be a voice.”

For her post-doctoral fellowship, Doris worked with her mentor, Dr. Barbara Elliott, at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, in the School of Medicine specializing in the health of ethnic minority populations, violence, and mental health. Doris says her fellowship has an impact on everything she does. It has given her an awareness of minority health issues, helped her get involved, and allowed her to make a larger impact. “It’s such a great experience, it’s hard to put into words,” she says. She advocates the program’s support, mentoring, networking, and focus on the “bigger picture”—expanding mental health from a local to a national level.

For future fellowship participants, she has a few words of advice. “It’s such a positive experience. Enjoy it, learn all you can, and take advantage of the networking,” she says. “When they leave the fellowship, they’re given the skills and support to really impact those health disparities.”

Robert Pope, Ph.D., R.N., M.S.N.

Robert Pope started as a hospital orderly, trying to work his way through the ranks. Then a colleague introduced him to a 20/20 program: work and school for 20 hours each, every week. Determined and serious about his studies, Robert was able to jumpstart his career in nursing.

Robert Pope, Ph.D., R.N., M.S.N.

Robert trained in gerontology at one of the largest hospitals in California and eventually delved into substance abuse and home-based patient care while working at a VA hospital. He noticed that a large population of the older veterans had histories of substance abuse. At one point, he had fi ve patients living in squalor, addicted to crack cocaine. “It appalled me. It shocked me,” he says. “I didn’t know that this existed at the time.”

His experiences at the VA hospital led him to SAMHSA and substance abuse study. “I had taken my experience and my background and used those experiences to gain entry into areas not previously examined,” he says. When he started his doctoral studies, Robert focused on the social processes surrounding illegal drug use among older African American men (his dissertation: “Older African Americans and Illicit Drug Use: A Qualitative Study”).

Not only did the Minority Fellowship Program help him complete his doctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), but Robert is continuing his work as a post-doctoral fellow as well. He recently accepted a one-year SAMHSA post-doctoral fellowship studying perceived control and psychosocial/ physiological functioning in substance abusing older African Americans.

Outside the program, Robert has become internationally renowned for his work in substance abuse in older African Americans, presenting at conferences across the globe. The Journal of Transcultural Nursing recently published an article that Robert co-authored, “The Social Determinants of Substance Abuse in African American Baby Boomers: Effects of Family, Media Images, and Environment.” Recently, he was appointed to serve on the Board of Directors of Mental Health America (MHA), in Alexandria, Virginia.

Robert says the MFP opened his eyes to many of the disparities minorities face working in health care, which he experienced firsthand. While attending his first class at UCSF, Robert looked around the auditorium. “The one glaring thing to me was there were no other African Americans,” he says. “I was it.” Robert felt a sense of isolation and loneliness. He struggled to relate to his peers. During one class, they discussed money-saving strategies that included decreasing spending on end-stage renal disease, which affects a large number of African Americans and other minorities. At another lecture, they talked about raising funds for osteoporosis, a disease that predominately affects older white women. These instances showed Robert the difficulties of being the only minority in a health science training program and motivated him to help try to change the health care landscape so minorities could see nursing and other health care professions as obtainable careers.

As a strong advocate for the MFP, Robert believes it’s important to increase minority nurse numbers through mentoring and speaking out. He says the program has helped him immeasurably and is “an excellent model of success for minority students.” He credits the program, Executive Consultant Dr. Faye Gary, Program Manager Janet Jackson, and their personal support for his success today.

Robert’s advice for potential fellows? Don’t be reluctant or hesitate. He was uncertain at fi rst, but a peer at UCSF convinced him to apply, and he hasn’t looked back. Future candidates should not compare their accomplishments to the existing fellows’ impressive résumés and feel they can’t measure up, he says.

Currently, Robert promotes nursing among minorities and recruits across the country. For young people who want to pursue the program and nursing in general, he suggests not only applying for the MFP, but also reaching out to those who have already found success in their fields. He says fellows are ready and available to help–students just have to ask. Robert invites nurses in need of career guidance to contact him. He can be reached at [email protected].

Mayola Rowser, Ph.D., D.N.P., F.N.P.-B.C., P.M.H.N.P.

At three years old, Mayola knew that she wanted to get involved in health care from watching her mother, a Red Cross volunteer. “I always, always wanted to be a nurse,” she says. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

While at the University of Southern Indiana School of Nursing, Mayola completed a rotation in the mental health program and “fell in love with it.” She remembers her instructor saying that the discipline was an area where nurses have to rely on their knowledge and compassion and not as much on machines. “It stuck with me,” she says.

For 24 years, Mayola has been working in various clinical settings with a focus on psychiatric/ mental health nursing. She completed her dissertation, “Predictors of Depressive Symptoms and Obesity in African American Women Transitioning from Welfare to Work,” at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Mayola is also the first known nurse to earn both a Ph.D. and a D.N.P.

Of her patients, Mayola says they “are some of the most vulnerable.” Mental health care requires a very different mindset from physical health, and many people don’t want to be around mental health patients. “They’re the forgotten population,” she says. “But they’re still people and they still deserve care.”

Mayola Rowser, Ph.D., D.N.P., F.N.P.-B.C., P.M.H.N.P.

Mental health care is a difficult field, she explains, and nurses must call upon all their faculties when aiding those with psychological concerns. (Mayola prefers the word “concern” over “illness” because of the stigma associated with the latter.) “You have to have compassion,” she says. You are working with patients that may never get better, and many times it’s an uphill battle against chronic progressive diseases. It is hard to leave her practice at the end of the day, and it sometimes occupies her thoughts into the evenings. However, Mayola stresses that the skills involved in mental health nursing are not unique to the practice; they’re transferable and needed across all health care disciplines.

Despite the hardships, there are many benefits to working in mental health. “I am thankful that I have the opportunity to serve these people,” she says. “I think that it has made me a better person.” Mayola cares deeply about her patients’ welfare and says they truly make a contribution to society. “Every day that I go to practice, I ask God to guide me and help me practice safely,” she says, “and I try to give it all that I can.”

Regarding the MFP, Mayola is in reverence. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for that program and Dr. Faye Gary and Janet Jackson,” she says. Of Dr. Gary, Mayola says, “She truly believes that her fellows will make a difference.” Dr. Gary pushes the fellows, knowing they will contribute to nursing science and research.

The MFP provides the foundation fellows need, and Mayola recommends that those passionate about mental health apply for the program–just be ready to articulate and demonstrate your enthusiasm for helping those with serious and persistent mental illnesses.

Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N.

When she was in high school, Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda went on a service mission to the Dominican Republic. There she saw very poor communities, with limited education and health care resources. “The thing that struck me most,” she says, “were the great disparities [between the United States and the Dominican Republic] that existed in terms of health.”

When she left high school for Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Rosa wasn’t exactly certain of what she wanted to study. She thought about nutrition, but there weren’t many programs available at the time, so she decided on nursing and a minor in international health so she could be more exposed to public health issues.

After earning her B.S.N., Rosa began working with communities in the United States. “I realized I saw the same disparities that struck me abroad existed here.” She refocused her studies on local issues, especially intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic violence, substance abuse, and risky sexual behavior.

Rosa decided to pursue master’s degrees in public health and nursing (M.P.H. and M.S.N.) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She worked with world renowned researcher Jackie Campbell, who specializes in domestic violence and has published more than 150 articles and seven books on the subject. They developed a violence prevention program at a predominantly African American inner-city middle school. It was a wonderful experience for Rosa, as she learned more about IPV. It was then that she decided to focus on domestic violence among Hispanics.

Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N.

For her doctoral study at the University of Miami, Rosa drew from three different disciplines: nursing, epidemiology, and psychology. Her dissertation focused on the intersection of substance abuse, IPV, and risky sexual behavior among Hispanic women, and she developed a model for understanding and addressing the co-occurrence of these conditions. “In reality, when you look at a lot of the factors that lead to these conditions, they’re the same thing,” she says. Rather than focusing and treating a single ailment, Rosa believes that such issues should be treated together. There are many changes she’d like to see, especially the categorical way the health system is funded.

Rosa says the MFP and its fellows improve communities through research and granting more opportunities for nurses. She believes they can also help with the nursing shortage. The lack of nursing faculty, who tend to need Ph.D.s to teach, has forced nursing schools to turn away students. With the program, more nurses can earn their Ph.D. on the way to becoming professors.

Rosa suggests potential candidates think about the things they’d like to research as a doctoral candidate and build a career trajectory around them. She explains that being a nurse researcher doesn’t mean being isolated from patients, sitting at a desk crunching numbers. Research nurses can really make a difference in the field. And her last piece of advice for potential MFP candidates? “Stay true to the communities that you are trying to serve.”

A final note

As nurses look toward the future and an aging American population, the opportunities to make an impact in the mental health and substance abuse field will continue to expand. The MFP affords minority nurses the chance to participate in that growth. When asked what advice she has for candidates considering the MFP, Willa Marlene Doswell says, “They should apply! [The SAMHSA Minority Fellowship Program at the American Nurses Association] opens up doors and it opens up opportunities to help the minority community.” For more information on SAMHSA’s Minority Fellowship Program at the American Nurses Association, visit the MFP online at