Program History

Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows is a leadership development program designed to prepare a select cadre of registered nurses (R.N.s) who are in senior executive positions for influential roles in shaping the U.S. health care system of the future.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) established the national program in 1997 with its office at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California, San Francisco under the directorship of Marilyn P. Chow, D.N.Sc., R.N., F.A.A.N.

In April 2010, RWJF moved the national program office to the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. Linda Cronenwett Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., dean emeritus and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing and David Altman, Ph.D., executive vice president, research, innovation, and product development at the Center for Creative Leadership are the new national program directors. They are working closely with Marilyn Chow and the staff at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California San Francisco to make a smooth and seamless transition.

RWJF organized a national advisory committee under the leadership of Shirley S. Chater, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., who had served as Social Security Commissioner during the Clinton Administration.

Key Results

  • From 1998 through 2008, 11 classes of fellows—totaling 205 nurses—have entered the program.
  • Three fellows—a member of the 1999 cohort the 2002 cohort and the 2005 cohort—did not complete the fellowship program.
  • It is expected that approximately 202 fellows will have graduated by 2011.
  • RWJF provides up to $35,000 per fellowship over the three years—$15,000 for the fellow's individual development and $20,000 for the project. The latter is matched by the fellow's institution, either in cash or in in-kind contributions.
  • The fellows' projects and individual development activities vary widely, although the latter frequently include participation in educational courses and professional conferences. Projects have included:

o Model hospital room care designs for critically ill patients.

o A prototype distance learning system for regional workforce development.

o A statewide plan for protecting women's health.



The first of two evaluations—commissioned in early 2000 as RWJF prepared to decide whether to fund three more classes of fellows—assessed the program's design. The evaluator, John R. O'Neil, reported "unanimous agreement about the general efficacy of the program" and concluded it was superior in many respects to other leadership programs he had observed.

His recommendations included strengthening the mentoring program—which he said was "working unevenly"—and using veteran fellows to help coach new fellows.

In 2001, RWJF authorized a second and more extensive evaluation in preparation for a decision on funding a third series of fellowship classes. The evaluator, the Lewin Group, reported in October 2002 that the program "has established a solid foundation and strong reputation." However, the report also made a number of recommendations to improve operations, including consideration of increased funding to pay for additional program staff. In 2005, the Lewin Group conducted another evaluation that concluded that the program "occupies a unique niche, providing rich opportunities to translate enhanced leadership skills into heightened effectiveness across service, education and public health sectors. It also increasingly serves as a model and catalyst in seeding new leadership development programs."

Report prepared by: Michael H. Brown
Reviewed by: Richard Camer and Molly McKaughan
Program Officers: Terrance Keenan, Susan B. Hassmiller and Maryjoan D. Ladden
Evaluation Officer: Nancy Fishman