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In Focus

Coming Full Circle: From student scholar to founding a nursing program

By December 19, 2019June 24th, 2022Nursing Education
Dr. Louise Fitzpatrick and Jennifer Specht

Jennifer Specht, PhD, RN pictured here with the late Dr. Louise Fitzpatrick, former Dean of Villanova University’s College of Nursing, now the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing.

A defining moment in my career came in 2007 when I was a doctoral student at Villanova University. I received a Nurse Scholar Award from Independence Blue Cross (Independence). The funding I received through the Nurse Scholars program enabled me to attend school full-time, complete my coursework in two years, and start a family.

The scholarship helped me in ways I’m still benefiting from today.

Paying it forward

When Villanova’s Dean, Dr. M. Louise Fitzpatrick, asked me to speak at an Independence event about how the Nurse Scholar funding influenced me, I felt as though there had been a mistake. Surely, a doctoral student like me didn’t belong there. The other invitees included experts in nursing education, authors of books I had read in class, speakers, researchers, and executives from major nursing organizations.

I sat next to the CEO of the National League for Nursing, Dr. Beverly Malone, and the President of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Dr. Jeanette Lancaster. Both women were incredibly kind and encouraging. I was so impressed that they recognized my need for support and were so sincere in offering it to me.

During that event, I realized the importance of offering compassion, support, and mentoring to future nurses and nurse educators. It helped form the foundation upon which my philosophy related to nursing education was built: Pay it forward by empowering young nurses to positively impact patient outcomes, advocate for the nursing profession and our patients, and address gaps in care.

The experience taught me I had a voice that mattered in health care, so I teach students and faculty that they have a voice, too. They can create positive change through nursing education, practice, research, and policy development.

A relationship that has continued to grow

Though I received my scholarship through Independence’s Nurse Scholars program, my relationship continued with the Independence Blue Cross Foundation (the Foundation), which now administers the nursing program.

The Foundation’s Nurses for Tomorrow program brings the nursing community together through initiatives and events that foster connections and create the next generation of nursing leaders. I have maintained my relationship with the Foundation’s Nursing Internship Program for more than 12 years.

I am currently serving as the founding director of Cabrini University’s brand-new undergraduate nursing program, which launched this summer. I’ve developed the program based on both my own experiences and Cabrini’s mission: Education of the Heart. We are excited to welcome our first cohort of nursing students to campus next fall.

Coming full circle

Through my relationship with Independence and the Foundation, I have developed connections with local and national nursing leaders. I give back to the Foundation by offering my expertise to students in their Nursing Internship Program, as well as participating in initiatives honoring nurses during Nurses Week.

I have truly come full circle, from student scholar to leading a nursing program. Independence and the Foundation’s commitment to nursing education and the relationships that stem from it are an important part of my journey.


Jennifer Specht

Jennifer Specht, PhD, RN is a registered nurse with extensive experience in leadership and administrative roles. She is Cabrini University’s Nursing program Founding Director. Previously, Specht served as the Dean/Director of Aria Health School of Nursing and has taught research, leadership, medical/surgical, and critical care courses to undergraduate and graduate nursing students at DeSales University, Moravian College, and Widener University. She earned her doctorate at Villanova University with a focus on nursing education and has served as a consultant for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.