Marine biologists. Attorneys. Bakery owners. People who enter the nursing profession often do so in roundabout ways, bringing their life experiences with them. UVA’s Clinical Nurse Leader master’s program provides people from all walks of life who want to join the nursing profession the ability to do so.

As the program celebrates its tenth year, a recent $5 million transformative gift from Washington, D.C., philanthropists Joanne and Bill Conway will diversify the School of Nursing program’s student body through scholarship support while relieving financial burdens on career-changers.

The Conway’s gift extends a $5 million gift they made in 2013 and furthers the couple’s support of UVA’s fast-track-to-nursing program for non-nurses entering the profession. Over five years, it will provide scholarships to more than 110 aspiring nurses who will bring a range of skills and experience from outside the profession, with a particular focus on students from underrepresented and minority groups, including men.


The Conways’ gift is bringing even more people to nursing who look like, talk like, and understand the patients they serve…”

—Dorrie Fontaine, Dean of School of Nursing


Most CNL students come to nursing later in life, and many have families. As students, they don’t have access to undergraduate scholarships, can’t serve as teaching assistants, and don’t have time for part-time jobs. While UVA’s program costs significantly less than those at other top nursing schools, CNL students can graduate with up to $50,000 in debt.“As a father of two preschool-aged children, the stressors of changing careers and attending graduate school full-time were greatly reduced knowing that I wouldn’t be faced with crippling debt upon graduation,” said pediatric nurse Ryan McFadden, a 2015 graduate. “My debt is half of what it would have been had I not received the Conway Scholarship.”

The CNL program is the first of its kind in Virginia and is ranked second in the nation. Students attend intensive academic courses in their first year, and begin clinical rotations with mentorship the second year. They graduate with 1,000 clinical hours, fully eligible to become entry-level nurses. Most rise quickly into leadership and management positions. Since 2013, four new full-time, tenure-track CNL professors have been hired. The most recent gift includes a provision for an academic support specialist who will help advocate for and mentor students.“Joanne and I are proud to continue to support the School of Nursing at UVA,” Bill Conway said. “Our first gift worked out so well, and we are so proud of our existing scholars that we decided to make another gift, this time to support a fast track to nursing.”

“The Conways’ gift is bringing even more people to nursing who look like, talk like, and understand the patients they serve,” added Dorrie Fontaine, dean of UVA’s School of Nursing. “Their steadfast support means our school’s doors are open even wider than before.”