Pathway to PhD Program Retrospective

Pathway to PhD Program Retrospective

My PhD journey is rooted in my family. As an adopted child, I grew up in a military family that valued hard work, education, and service to others. Although my parents did not complete college themselves and the financial hardship of having my sister and I in college at the same time, they wholeheartedly supported my decision to pursue a “two-plus-two” nursing program that allowed me to earn my associate’s degree in two years, benefitting from Pell grants and other financial support, subsequently completing my bachelor’s degree while working as a staff nurse in Med-Surg units and in Psych/Mental Health.

After attaining my bachelor’s degree, I had many opportunities to engage in teaching, initially teaching clinicals at my alma mater and at community college, before taking on a new role as the first case manager at the Medical College of GA.

As a part of my journey as a nurse and as a scientist, I have benefitted from mentorship and support to develop in my faculty role and, even more importantly, to nurture the next generation of nurse scientists. Witnessing the enthusiasm of aspiring nurses and scholars continues to serve an inspiration for every aspect of my work, including my current role as Director of our PhD program in the SON. Their excitement helps me to remember my own path and how critical it is to support scholars, particularly those who are underrepresented in nursing science and PhD education and who have numerous challenges and barriers in achieving their professional goals. Through our Pathways program, we hope to encourage talented nurses who may see the PhD or research scientist roles as far off goals to realize their ability to make an indelible mark on the world and for nursing, to recognize that an investment in their education can help us solve critical issues that impact our patients, and to help make their goals achievable.

Drs. Kamila Alexander and I are delighted to have launched our pilot Pathways program, which draws inspiration from recommendations by the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing and the 2021 NASEM Future of Nursing report, this summer. In partnership with our Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, especially Associate Dean Jermaine Monk, we hope to demystify the PhD application process and to create important support systems to make the PhD more readily achievable.

This summer we were delighted to take our first steps in redefining the landscape of nursing education with an amazing and highly committed group of 4 scholars who are now a part of the JHSON family. In nurturing a cohort of nurses who represent important and diverse communities and who each bring the richness of their lived experiences and hopes for the future, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing demonstrates its unwavering commitment to transform PhD education and nursing as a profession. Our Pathways program faculty and administrators were excited to support rising stars in nursing to carve out a future where they can flourish as scientists and to create a lasting impact on the field of nursing.

Participating nurses in the “Pathway to PhD Nursing Scholars” program received exposure to a rigorous and enriching experience that encompassed research, training activities, mentorship, and academic community-building. Working with seasoned mentors and research teams, scholars actively contributed to scholarly projects and had exposure to groundbreaking research in action. Scholars also received instruction in the nursing research process, learn how to navigate the PhD application, with emphasis on understanding health equity and social determinants of health across multiple settings. Uniquely tailored networking opportunities across JHU, research experiences, and mentoring were provided by JHUSON faculty members, current PhD and postdoctoral trainees.

The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON) and the University are investing in a more inclusive and diverse future in the field of nursing with our new “Pathway to PhD Nursing Scholars” program. This comprehensive summer program has been designed to address the underrepresentation of certain groups in the nursing profession by providing targeted mentorship, resources, networking opportunities, and career guidance to post-baccalaureate nurses aspiring to pursue a PhD. In addition to materially supporting underrepresented nurses, the program is designed to help break down existing obstacles to PhD education. 

Our “Pathway to PhD Nursing Scholars” program is set to span five years, welcoming approximately ten scholars each year. Funding for this transformative endeavor has been provided through a generous $5 million investment to the SON by Johns Hopkins University. This financial commitment demonstrates dedication to fostering diversity and inclusivity by creating pathways for students from non-STEM backgrounds to embark on PhD journeys.

We are excited to see the outcomes of this program in addition to bearing witness to the amazing futures in store for our first and future cohorts and hope to see them many of our scholars return to JH SON soon!

About the Author: Dr. Jennifer A. Wenzel

Dr. Wenzel directs the PhD and Postdoctoral Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, chairs the Health Disparities Committee for NRG Oncology, and serves as the Health Disparities Special Expert on the NCI Symptom Management & Health-related Quality of Life Steering Committee.

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