A Foundation's Prescription for Better Health: Focus on Those Who Provide It

Most of the unending debate about healthcare focuses on coverage and how to pay for it, as well as how to lower costs and improve quality. But there's another important aspect of healthcare that rarely makes the front page: how to teach medical providers.

Similarly, most of philanthropy's health and medicine dollars go toward laboratory and clinical research into new treatments and cures, and to expand access to care. Rarely do we hear of funders bankrolling innovation of education and curricula for future nurses, doctors and other health workers.

That's ironic, since improving medical education was among the first great projects of modern philanthropy a century ago, with the Rockefeller Foundation giving millions for such work. 

Now, some funders see the need for a new era of investments in this area. Healthcare is changing in lots of ways beyond insurance policies, and educators say academia is not preparing its students for the future of healthcare. "Our traditional, fragmented approach to clinical education is failing to adequately prepare graduates for transition into practice," wrote Judith Halstead, Ph.D., RN, executive associate dean for Academic Affairs at Indiana School of Nursing. She believes nursing schools need to redesign clinical education to teach new models of patient-centered care, evidence-based medicine and to work in interprofessional teams.

This is true for doctors, too. In 2013, the American Medical Association launched a medical education reform program with 11 medical schools, the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium. The AMA gave each school a 5-year, $1 million grant to develop new curricula; last year, the AMA funded the addition of 21 more medical schools to the consortium.

But one foundation saw this coming. Back in 2010, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation launched what it says is the first program to accelerate reforms in education for health professionals. Its Macy Faculty Scholars Program funds five health care faculty members each year—up to $100,000 per year for two years. Under the program, the foundation supports educational innovation at each scholar's institution, develop a national network for the scholars and connect them to a National Advisory Committee for continuing career advice.

The 2016 cohort of Macy Faculty Scholars includes two nursing school professors and three medical school professors.

We haven't previously covered the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, but they've been around since 1930. Kate Macy Ladd created it in her father's name, intending the foundation to devote itself to the "promotion of health and the ministry of healing."

(Don't confuse Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation with the department store company Macy's Inc., which does philanthropy along with its national grantmaking arm, as we've reported.)

At 85 years old, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation may be older than most funders,  but in crafting her mission statement, Ladd demonstrated vision that would still be seen as current, even cutting-edge: "Concentrate on a few problems rather than support many undertakings," and use the fund for "integrating functions in medical sciences and medical education for which there seem to be particular need in our age of specialization and technical complexities." Since the 1970s, the foundation says the majority of its grants have gone towards medical and health professional education.