Orange County philanthropists Sue and Bill Gross have donated nearly $800 million to numerous worthy causes, mostly those that improve education, research and healthcare around the world. Their latest contribution, though, may have the most lasting impact.

In January 2016, the Grosses committed $40 million to the University of California, Irvine to establish a nursing school and assist in the construction of a new building to house it. The largest single gift ever to UCI, the donation will help put the university in a leadership position to address the coming evolution in American patient care.

According to recent reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation will need more than 1 million new registered nurses by 2022. And an increase in nurse practitioners – registered nurses with advanced degrees who can provide many of the same services as primary care physicians – will be necessary to cover the looming shortage of these frontline doctors. Training these nurses will require additional experienced nursing faculty.

“We expect our support for a nursing school to have a broad impact, as the demand for nurses and their teachers touches the heart of our healthcare system.”

The Gross gift will enable the continued growth of UCI’s nursing program, which has gained an admirable reputation since its founding less than a decade ago. The highly selective program – which offers fully accredited bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees – could admit just 4 percent of undergraduate applicants in the fall of 2015 due to space limitations. In February 2015, named it one of the top 10 programs in the western United States for quality, value and satisfaction, and its nurse practitioner faculty is consistently ranked within the country’s top 25.

“We’re proud to partner with UCI to help solve some of the most pressing healthcare needs of our generation,” said Sue Gross, president of the Gross Family Foundation. “We expect our support for a nursing school to have a broad impact, as the demand for nurses and their teachers touches the heart of our healthcare system.”

When approved, the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing will be the fourth nursing school in the UC system. The gift will fund the construction of the Sue and Bill Gross Nursing and Health Sciences Hall on campus, which will allow the school to hire new faculty and nearly double current student enrollment. This includes a sizeable increase in admissions to the graduate degree program, which supplies future nursing educators.

Moreover, the funding will broaden the reach of community partnerships addressing the healthcare needs of underserved populations, such as off-campus programs focused on nutrition and wellness, prenatal care, and complex clinical cases requiring a team-based or coordinated approach.

The donation continues the Grosses’ generous support of UCI. In 2006, their foundation gave $10 million to create a stem cell research center and help fund a state of- the-art facility for this work. They were awarded the 2012 UCI Medal – the university’s highest honor – for their exceptional contributions to UCI’s mission of teaching, research and public service.

“The Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing plans to recruit a faculty with substantial experience and essential credentials in nursing education; a curriculum dedicated to meeting healthcare requirements; and an approach that furthers relevant solutions, technologies and applications,” says Dr. Howard Federoff, vice chancellor of health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “The school will have the capacity to stimulate an increase in graduate degree program admissions – essentially, the source of future nursing educators. In doing so, we hope to play a significant role in improving the profession itself, enhancing interest and satisfaction in a revitalized nursing workforce in the United States.”

Nursing: At a Glance

Inaugural class: Initial cohort of bachelor’s students enrolled in 2007 and graduated in 2009.

Current number of students: 175 bachelor’s, 33 master’s, four postgraduate and eight doctoral students

Degrees and programs offered: B.S.; M.S. with either a family nurse practitioner concentration or an adult/gerontological primary care nurse practitioner concentration; Ph.D.; and a postgraduate nurse practitioner certificate program

Start of nurse practitioner master’s program: UCI began educating nurse practitioners in 1996 in the Department of Family Medicine via a post-master’s degree certificate program. In 2004, the university began collaborating with California State University, Fullerton to provide family nurse practitioner coursework for their master’s students while continuing the post-master’s program. In 2009, UCI admitted its first master’s-level nurse practitioner students.

Moved into Berk Hall: fall 2011

Start of doctoral program: fall 2013

Highlight: In 2011, nursing science received a $1.5 million federal grant to establish Orange County’s first nurse managed clinic – the SOS-El Sol Wellness Center at the El Sol Science & Arts Academy in downtown Santa Ana.

Originally published in the Witner 2016 issue of UCI Magazine