Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden Receives $200,000 New Jersey Nursing Initiative Grant

By Tom McLaughlin

Across the nation, school nurses are critical to the health of their students and their communities. Thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden will bolster its mission of educating school nurses to address the complex and increasingly demanding health needs of students and their communities within the state.

The New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI) award – one of only five given in the state – will help fund an innovative expansion of the school’s post-baccalaureate School Nurse Certification Program to a graduate-level program in nursing practice with a focus on population health.

The grant will enable Rutgers University–Camden faculty to look at the current certification program and make the transition from focusing on the health of individual students to addressing the determinants of health affecting students in their communities, says Joy Atkins, an instructor in the nursing certification program, who co-wrote the grant with fellow instructor Robin Cogan and Sharon Conway, director of the school nurse certification program at Rutgers–Camden.

“School nurses need education in population health, as well as the advanced leadership skills necessary to work with other community leaders to change the systems, policies, and environments that influence health,” says Atkins.

According to the researchers, school nursing education seemed to be a perfect fit for the NJNI’s request for proposals that address the emerging needs of population health.

“It is with enthusiasm and passion that our team of faculty stepped up to the challenge of submitting a grant proposal to reimagine our School Nurse Certification Program that reflects the current trends in population health,” says Conway. “The fact that our team was awarded the grant speaks to the innovative thinking of NJNI. We are gratified and humbled by this important challenge.”

The NJNI program sees value in seeding the curricular changes necessary for academic institutions to begin planning for educational and pedagogical changes focused on population health and community-based care, explains Jennifer Polakowski, deputy director of the NJNI for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

She adds that the initiative emphasizes creating healthier communities by making health a shared value, fostering cross-sector collaboration in order to improve well-being, fostering healthier more equitable communities, and strengthening integration of health services and systems, the main message of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health campaign.

“Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden’s school nurse program plans to pioneer and lead the change by developing a program that will be a model to address these attributes in order to better prepare school nurses in New Jersey, resulting in improved population health of the communities they will serve,” she says.

The first phase of the program is designed to prepare school nurses with high-quality, comprehensive leadership education, which will enable students to develop long-term skills that allow them to be leaders and change agents within their schools and communities.

“School nursing in the 21st century will require school nurses to think outside of their schools and work in their students’ communities with partners such as health care systems, social-service agencies, police departments, and elected officials,” says Atkins. “Partnering across sectors, school nurses can together enact effective, sustainable, school-community initiatives to build healthier communities.”

Cogan notes that school nurses are in a unique position to improve population health of their school communities due to their access and availability to students, families, and staff.

“In most communities, the school nurse is a trusted link between families, schools, and the health care system,” says Cogan. “In the most vulnerable communities, the school nurse has a central role in promoting, maintaining, and restoring health.”

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