National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)


The National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) leads nursing research to solve pressing health challenges and inform practice and policy - optimizing health and advancing health equity into the future.

The 2022-2026 NINR Strategic Plan: An Overview

NINR’s strategic plan includes a research framework that takes advantage of what makes the Institute unique by focusing on a holistic, contextualized approach to optimizing health for all people, rather than on specific diseases, life stages, or research topics. The framework encourages research that informs practice and policy, and improves health and quality of life for all people, their families and communities, and the society in which they live.

The framework builds on the strengths of nursing research, spans the intersection of health care and public health, and encompasses the clinical and community settings where nurses engage in prevention, treatment, and care—including hospitals and clinics, schools and workplaces, homes and long-term care facilities, justice settings, and throughout the community.

NINR’s research framework includes five complementary and synergistic research lenses that best leverage the strengths of nursing research and promote multilevel approaches, cross-disciplinary and -sectoral collaboration, and community engagement in research. The research lenses are: 

  • Health Equity
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Population and Community Health
  • Prevention and Health Promotion
  • Systems and Models of Care

The Plan is intended to be a living document, one which can be adapted as new opportunities and challenges arise.

Important Events in NINR History

November 20, 1985 — Public Law 99-158, the Health Research Extension Act of 1985, becomes law. Among other provisions, the law authorizes the National Center for Nursing Research (NCNR) to support research and training related to patient care at NIH.

April 18, 1986 — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary announces the establishment of NCNR at NIH.

April 1986–June 1987 — Dr. Doris Merritt, Special Assistant to the NIH Director, is appointed Acting Director of NCNR. NCNR’s initial budget is $16 million.

June 1987–June 1994 — Dr. Ada Sue Hinshaw serves as the first Director of NCNR.

June 10, 1993 — P.L. 103-43, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, becomes law. Among other provisions, it elevates NCNR to an NIH Institute. As such, NCNR is re-designated the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR).

July 1994–April 1995 — Dr. Suzanne Hurd serves as Acting Director of NINR.

April 3, 1995 — Dr. Patricia A. Grady is appointed Director of NINR.

Summer 2000 — NINR holds the first Summer Genetics Institute.

April 2002 — NINR launches a free online training, "Developing Nurse Scientists" for students interested in the nursing research field.

2004 — NINR launches a new pilot training project, the Graduate Partnerships Program in Biobehavioral Research.

December 2004 — NINR co-sponsors the NIH State-of-the-Science conference, Improving End-of-Life Care, bringing together almost 1,000 health care practitioners from around the world.

2005–2006 — NINR celebrates its 20th anniversary at NIH.

2009 — Using the unprecedented additional funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), NINR supports an additional $36 million in research in fiscal year 2009–2010. Projects supported under ARRA include a new research cooperative for palliative care science and multiple training opportunities to build the scientific workforce. Approximately 73 additional research grants are supported, along with multiple research and training supplements.

2010 — NINR holds its first Methodologies Boot Camp, which focuses on pain research.

2010 — U.S. Senate resolution, S. Res. 642, congratulates NINR on a quarter century of achievement in science and public service. The resolution is introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and co-sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

2010–2011 — NINR celebrates its 25th anniversary at NIH with a series of scientific events.

2011 — NINR launches a new NINR Director's Lecture series, designed to bring the nation’s top nurse scientists to the NIH campus to share their work and interests with a transdisciplinary audience. Dr. Bernadette Melnyk presents the inaugural lecture on “COPE: Improving Outcomes for Premature Infants and Parents.”

August 11–12, 2011 — NINR convenes a national summit on “The Science of Compassion: Future Directions in End-of-Life and Palliative Care,” attended by nearly 1,000 scientists, health care professionals, and public advocates.

October 13, 2011 — Bringing Science to Life: NINR Strategic Plan is released at NINR's 25th Anniversary Concluding Symposium.

January 2014 — NINR launches the Palliative Care: Conversations Matter® campaign, which aims to increase the use of palliative care for children living with a serious illness. The campaign is initiated to raise awareness of and improve communication about pediatric palliative care.

2015–2016 — NINR marks its 30th anniversary at NIH with a series of scientific events including the “Advancing Science, Improving Lives” scientific symposium.

September 2016 — NINR releases its new Strategic Plan, "Advancing Science, Improving Lives: A Vision for Nursing Science." The blueprint for the Plan grew from the Institute’s 2011 Strategic Plan, past scientific accomplishments, and current research priorities.

August 2017 — NINR and its partners host “The Science of Caregiving: Bringing Voices Together” Summit. The Summit provides perspectives across the spectrum of caregiving, including the importance of caregiving across the lifespan as well as current and future directions for research to improve the health of patients and caregivers. 

August 31, 2018 — After 23 years of service, Dr. Patricia A. Grady retires as director of NINR.

September 2018–September 2019 — Dr. Ann Cashion serves as Acting Director of NINR. On September 30, 2019, Dr. Cashion retires from federal service.

October 2019 to December 2019 Dr. Lawrence Tabak serves as Acting Director of NINR.    

January 2020 to September 2020 Dr. Tara Schwetz serves as Acting Director of NINR.    

September 14, 2020 — Dr. Shannon Zenk becomes Director of NINR.

May 2022 – The Institute releases the NINR 2022-2026 Strategic Plan. This plan outlines the Institute's vision for supporting science that advances our mission: to lead nursing research to solve pressing health challenges and inform practice and policy-optimizing health and advancing health equity into the future.

November 2022 – NINR hosts a workshop “Firearm Injury Prevention: State of the Science and the Potential of Nurse-Led Research” to explore how nurse scientists and nursing research can contribute to firearm injury prevention. The workshop includes an examination of current research in various disciplines, with the goal of developing a research trajectory that advances nursing knowledge, practice, and policy related to firearm injury prevention.

2022-2023 – Dr. Zenk participates in the Implementing a Maternal health and PRegnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) Initiative, the NIH-wide Social Determinants of Health Research Coordinating Committee (SDOH RCC), and the NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative.

NINR Legislative Chronology

November 10, 1985 — Public Law 99-158, the Health and Research Extension Act of 1985, becomes law. Among other provisions, the law authorizes the National Center for Nursing Research (NCNR) to support research and research training related to patient care at NIH.

1986 — A series of continuing resolutions (P.L. 99-500, P.L. 99-599) establishes NCNR as a separate NIH appropriation.

June 10, 1993 — P.L. 103-43, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, becomes law. Among other provisions, it elevates NCNR to a NIH Institute. As such, NCNR is re-designated the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR).

2010 — U.S. Senate resolution, S. Res. 642, congratulates NINR on a quarter century of achievement in science and public service. The resolution is introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and cosponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Biographical Sketch of NINR Director Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN

portrait of Shannon Zenk Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN, FAANNINR

Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN is the Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Dr. Zenk was previously a Nursing Collegiate Professor in the Department of Population Health Nursing Science at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) College of Nursing, and a fellow at the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy.

Dr. Zenk was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing in 2013, received the President’s Award from the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research in 2018, and was inducted into the International Nurse Researchers Hall of Fame in 2019. She has spent time as a visiting scholar in Rwanda and Australia. She earned her bachelor’s in nursing, magna cum laude, from Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington; her master’s degrees in public health nursing and community health sciences from UIC; and her doctorate in health behavior and health education from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her predoctoral training was in psychosocial factors in mental health and illness, funded by the the National Institute of Mental Health. Her dissertation examined racial and socioeconomic inequities in food access in metropolitan Detroit. She completed postdoctoral training in UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy’s Cancer Education and Career Development Program, funded by the National Cancer Institute, in 2006.

Dr. Zenk’s own research focuses on social inequities and health with a goal of identifying effective, multilevel approaches to improve health and eliminate racial/ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities. Her research portfolio has included NIH-supported work into urban food environments, community health solutions and veterans’ health. Through pioneering research on the built environment and food deserts, Dr. Zenk and her colleagues increased national attention to the problem of inadequate access to healthful foods in low-income and Black neighborhoods. They have since examined the role of community environments in health and health disparities. 

Recognizing that restricting empirical attention to the communities where people live and not the other communities where they spend time may misdirect interventions, Dr. Zenk led early research adopting GPS tracking to study broader “activity space” environments in relation to health behaviors. She and her colleagues have also evaluated whether the effectiveness of behavioral interventions differs depending on environmental context and, most recently, how environmental and personal factors interact to affect health. This work has leveraged a variety of technologies and emerging data resources such as electronic health records. Energy balance-related behaviors and conditions have been a major focus.

NINR Directors

Name In Office from To
Doris H. Merritt (Acting) April 18, 1986 June 1987
Ada Sue Hinshaw June 6, 1987 June 30, 1994
Suzanne S. Hurd (Acting) July 1, 1994 April 2, 1995
Patricia A. Grady April 3, 1995 August 31, 2018
Ann Cashion (Acting) September 1, 2018 September 30, 2019
Lawrence Tabak (Acting) October 1, 2019 December 31, 2019
Tara A. Schwetz (Acting) January 1, 2020 September 13, 2020
Shannon N. Zenk September 14, 2020 Present

Major Programs

Division of Extramural Science Programs  

The Division of Extramural Science Programs (DESP) serves NINR’s extramural research community and NINR by overseeing policy and management for grants and contracts to support NINR research and training at institutions across the United States. NINR offers a range of research funding and training opportunities. 

Division of Intramural Research

NINR's intramural research program conducts science that complements NINR's overall research mission, while leveraging resources unique to the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

The intramural research program is currently focused on increasing its efforts in research that integrate a multilevel understanding of the impact of health determinants, from the community level to the laboratory bench, with areas such as community-based, multilevel, and translational research. Like the rest of NINR's research portfolio, this approach to science takes advantage of nursing science's unique ability to address people's lives and living conditions to improve health and health equity.

National Advisory Council for Nursing Research

The National Advisory Council for Nursing Research provides a second level of review of grant applications, and recommends to the Institute Director which applications should be approved and considered for funding. These recommendations are based not only on considerations of scientific merit, but also on the relevance of the proposed project to NINR’s programs and priorities. Funding decisions are ultimately made by the Institute. In addition, the Council reviews the Institute’s extramural programs and also makes recommendations about its intramural research activities.

Partnerships and Initiatives

NINR plays an active role in several initiatives, including the:

  • Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS) - ComPASS aims to catalyze, deploy, and evaluate community-led health equity structural interventions that leverage partnerships across multiple sectors to reduce health disparities.
  • Transformative Health Disparities Research Program - NINR is co-leading NIH’s Common Fund Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity initiative, which is supporting innovative, translational research projects to prevent, reduce, or eliminate health disparities and advance health equity.
  • NIH-Wide Social Determinants of Health Research Coordinating Committee (SDOH RCC) - NINR is co-chairing an NIH-wide SDOH RCC. The goal of the committee is to accelerate SDOH research across NIH and across diseases and conditions, populations, life course, and SDOH domains.
  • Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone Initiative (IMPROVE) - NINR is a co-chair of the NIH IMPROVE initiative to address high rates of maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States. It includes a special emphasis on health disparities and populations that are disproportionately affected.
  • Climate Change and Health Initiative (CCHI)- NINR is on the executive committee for the NIH-wide CCHI. CCHI is an urgent, cross-cutting NIH effort to reduce health threats from climate change across the lifespan and to build health resilience in individuals, communities, and nations around the world, especially among those at highest risk.
  • Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (HEAL) - NINR is supporting the HEAL initiative, an effort to enhance evidence and evidence-based solutions to address the national opioid public health crisis. Through this initiative NINR is funding research to understand, manage, and treat pain. As part of the NIH HEAL Initiative to speed scientific solutions for the national opioid public health crisis, NINR participates in the Pragmatic and Implementation Studies for the Management of Pain to Reduce Opioid Prescribing (PRISM) program.
  • COVID Social Behavioral, And Economic Initiative (SBE) - NINR has a leadership role in NIH’s SBE Initiative on the Health Impacts of COVID-19, which includes 21 NIH Institutes and Centers that have pooled funds to support this initiative. As part of the COVID SBE initiative, NINR has supported 11 grants focused on data science and intervention research.

For more information about NINR, please visit the NINR website at:

This page last reviewed on June 30, 2023