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UNC School of Nursing to use $5 million donation to combat nursing shortage


The UNC School of Nursing, located Carrington Hall, is pictured on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. The school has received a $5 million dollar gift to combat the North Carolina nursing shortage and provide support for current nursing students.

UNC undergraduate nursing student Joe Jones, who works at UNC Health, said he has seen the consequences of the nationwide COVID-19-induced nursing shortage first-hand.

At every shift there are over 30 nursing vacancies, he said. 

The nursing shortage has also limited the number of available hospital rooms, meaning individuals who need care might not receive it, doctor of nursing practice student Sarah Nicolsaid.

To help combat this issue, Joanne and William E. Conway Jr. donated $5 million to UNC’s School of Nursing earlier this month – making it the largest gift in the school’s history in support of students.

Aimed at supporting students and educators, this donation and the Conways’ Bedford Falls Foundation will help to alleviate the current nursing shortage in North Carolina by by funding student scholarships and the Conway Scholars Program. 

“This $5 million is going to help the future of nursing with supporting educators and the school as a whole,” Nicol said.

The nursing shortage, Nicol said, stemmed from the burnout of frontline workers at the height of the pandemic and the natural aging of individuals in the profession, which has created an environment where funding like this is critical.

“The timing of this is great because the idea of having a new building and money toward things that can help future nursing students puts a positive light on the nursing profession,” Nicol said.

With a new building and increased funds, the school plans to increase enrollment by up to 50 percent as well as inspire individuals to enter the field, according to a press release.

“I hope this gift is exciting for students who are thinking about pursuing nursing, and they can see that there's an investment in the profession and a lot of thoughtful progress,” Director of Communications for the School of Nursing Mariah Keller said.

Since the height of the pandemic, many students have struggled to find clinical placements where they can apply what they are learning in classes, Nicol said. She attended UNC as both an undergraduate and graduate student, said she understands how this money will positively impact all students in the School of Nursing.

“UNC has such a good reputation and it is only appropriate that we give students the best experience they can have,” she said.

The $5 million donation will directly affect undergraduate students by giving them scholarships and opportunities needed to achieve their goals, the press release said.

Although UNC provides financial support, Jones said many nursing students still face monetary struggles due to purchasing required materials.

Jones, who said he comes from a low-income background, added that he thinks this donation will help to relieve the financial stress many undergraduates face as they go through the nursing program.

According to the press release, the Conways’ donation intends to give partial support to up to 250 undergraduate nursing students.

“Being able to graduate with less debt or even no debt, depending on how the scholarships are awarded, that just creates more opportunities,” Dean of the School of Nursing Valerie Howard said.

Going forward, Howard said those who will benefit most from the donation are the people receiving care from School of Nursing graduates.

“At the end of the day, I think about our patients,” Howard said. 


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CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to more accurately describe the nature of Joanne and William E. Conway Jr.'s gift to the UNC School of Nursing and how it will be used.