1. Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN, news director

Article Content

AJN editor-in-chief Diana J. Mason recently announced that Rita Hillman, who has provided millions of dollars in support for nurses and nursing in New York City since 1989 through the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, is the winner of the 2004 AJN-Beatrice Renfield Caring for the Caregiver Award.


The award, created in 2003, is given to an individual or organization that has provided significant financial support for nurses' education and professional development. Ms. Hillman is the second winner. The award is named in honor of the late Beatrice Renfield, who donated millions of dollars to various nursing programs and was a patron and trustee of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.


Ms. Hillman was nominated by four of the institutions whose nurses have benefited from her generosity: Lenox Hill Hospital; New York University (NYU), the Steinhardt School of Education, Division of Nursing; Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing (all in New York City); and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia. Through Ms. Hillman's generosity and commitment to nursing, more than 1,200 RNs have completed or enhanced their education through scholarships and clinical mentoring programs funded by her foundation and continue their professional development through an ongoing support and networking program for former Hillman scholars.

FIGURE. Rita Hillman... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Rita Hillman attends a Hillman Scholars program at Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing in New York City.

Ms. Hillman came to value nursing through firsthand experiences with nurses during her late father's illness and again as a mother, says Terry Fulmer, head of the Division of Nursing at NYU. The nursing shortage in the late 1980s inspired Ms. Hillman to actively support nursing in New York City and to assist aspiring nurses who couldn't afford the education. In 1989 she decided to fund programs for nurses with the proceeds from the sale of art from her collection. It seemed especially appropriate that the piece she chose to sell to begin her programs was Picasso's Mother and Child.


In 1989 Ms. Hillman provided the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing with funding to establish the Hillman Family Foundation Penn Nursing Program, which provides scholarships and postgraduate clinical mentoring opportunities to students committed to working for one year at a New York City hospital upon completion of their studies. RNs at these facilities serve as preceptors to the new graduates and new New Yorkers, and according to Mary Naylor, director of the Hillman program at the University of Pennsylvania, this support is critical to the new RNs as they begin their careers.


Naylor and Afaf Meleis, the Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, attribute the success of the program to its emphasis on building supportive relationships, a particular focus of Ms. Hillman's.


In 1990, with Hillman Foundation funds, Lenox Hill Hospital established the Hillman Partners in Practice Program, which provides senior nursing students (in the Student Nurse Assistant Program) and new graduates (in the Graduate Nurse Extern Program) with guided internships to increase their confidence and skills in the clinical setting. These new and aspiring nurses are partnered with RNs for eight weeks during the summer.


Christine Sheppard, vice president of patient care services at Lenox Hill, says the purpose is to instill in novice nurses "the core values of empathy, respect, and unconditional positive regard for patients, families, colleagues, and coworkers." The program has become a significant source of recruitment for the hospital. In 2003 five of the six Hillman participants in the critical care division stayed to work there.


"The tangible benefits are enormous, as these new graduates get to start their careers with confidence and with the support that all new grads should have," says Nancy Mooney, who coordinates the Hillman program at Lenox Hill. Ms. Hillman enjoys meeting the participants and learning about how the experience has helped them, Sheppard says. She notes that Ms. Hillman dismisses the thanks of the participants and always replies "No, thank you for all that you do."


In 1991 Ms. Hillman provided both New York University Division of Nursing and Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing with funds to establish Hillman Scholars programs. Differing somewhat from the University of Pennsylvania's program, these initiatives provide assistance to college graduates seeking a second degree in nursing in return for a commitment to work in New York City for two years. Hillman funds also provide support for student recruitment activities at Phillips Beth Israel and for the school's Web site.


Ms. Hillman recognized that to influence recruitment of nurses, young people needed to start thinking early about nursing as a career option. To this end, she has enabled NYU to create Nursing Bound, a program to generate interest in nursing careers among middle-school and high-school students. To date, more than 600 New York-area high school students have participated in the program.

FIGURE. Tim Jolley, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Tim Jolley, left, and Jennifer Allen, right, former Hillman scholars.

Ms. Hillman wanted the graduates of her programs to be able to continue mentoring relationships, so in 1996 the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing received funds to create and house the Hillman Alumni Nursing Network (, which works "to maintain and improve patient care through networking, educational opportunities, and media support."


For the past 15 years Ms. Hillman has made nursing a priority for the Alex Hillman Family Foundation. Her commitment has made a significant difference not only in the lives of the nurses and institutions she has supported, but to the patients of New York City who benefit from the enriched experiences and continuing collaborative relationships of Hillman nurses. Until poor health limited her activities recently, Ms. Hillman had been a visible presence at Hillman Scholar events, delighting in meeting, listening to, and encouraging program participants. The various forms of the Hillman nursing initiatives show her earnest desire and commitment to support what is valuable to nurses.


Sarah Krissel, a 2003 Hillman scholar from the University of Pennsylvania, notes that Ms. Hillman "embodies the spirit of nursing and has shown through her actions that she appreciates the effect nurses have on the health of our community. She has invested herself in the future of nursing."