Patricia Grady, RN, PhD, FAAN, has defined a generation of nurse science and patient-centered research, serving as the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) director for more than 23 years. Under her charge, NINR has grown into one of the foremost federal agencies supporting the scope of the nursing research community, driving groundbreaking initiatives and furthering clinical practice.
Grady announced her retirement, effective August 31, 2018, leaving behind a legacy of leadership, patient-centered research, and awareness for the role of nurse scientists in all specialties.
After starting with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1988, Grady spent time working in neurologic disorders as a program administrator, deputy director, and acting director in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“When the NINR leadership opportunity came along in 1995, it was a good way to combine my experience as a neuroscientist, nurse, and NIH administrator,” Grady explained. “The first years as NINR director were ones of intense growth.”
Growing a Burgeoning Institute
Slightly more than a year prior to Grady’s appointment, then-NIH Director Harold Varmus had elevated NINR’s designation from a center to an institute, leading to great change within the organization.
“Although the new designation as an institute presented challenges, it was also a great time to build on our new foundation,” Grady said. “We were actively building our established intramural research program and funding seminal research in nursing science throughout the country.”
Growing NINR’s capacity for research and support was one of Grady’s main objectives after becoming director, a focus that continued throughout her tenure.
“One of my biggest goals has been raising awareness of what nursing research is and how it benefits public health,” Grady said. “We have been making great strides on this front, and I am confident that this will continue after I step down.”
Driving Palliative and End-of-Life Research
Through nurse-led initiatives, NINR supported growing research in end-of-life and palliative care efforts. Grady pointed to the leaps made during her time as director.
“As the lead NIH institute for end-of-life research, we support science related to managing the symptoms of life-limiting conditions and planning for end-of-life decisions,” Grady said. “Leading this important, trans-NIH research area has been very rewarding. The research we support has helped individuals, families, and clinicians manage the symptoms of advanced illness through improved palliative care and provided comfort to those at the end of life through better communication, decision-making, and clinical care.”
Grady said that one of her proudest efforts was the Palliative Care: Conversations Matter campaign, aiming to increase palliative care use for children living with a serious illness.
Changing the Face of Oncology Nursing Research
NINR has long been a resource for oncology nurse scientists pursuing new patient-centered research. Grady acknowledged the agency’s support for oncology researchers and reflected on some of the biggest accomplishments during her time.
“NINR, with its focus on building the scientific base for clinical practice, has a long history of supporting cancer research, with a focus on symptom science, symptom clusters, caregiving, self-management, palliative care, and most recently, precision health,” Grady said. “For the past three decades, NINR researchers in the extramural and intramural programs have helped patients, family caregivers, and clinicians to better anticipate and treat symptoms and improve quality of life.”
An example that Grady cited is an intramural program where researchers identified a biomarker—TRAIL—along with pathways that could contribute to fatigue and other symptoms after radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
Looking to the Future of Nursing Research
Grady recognized the ever-evolving changes in health care and research. In her time as director, she’s seen new sciences emerge and take center stage.
“One major change has been the advances in genomics,” Grady said. “The translation of genomics into health care and the importance of the role of nurses in the application of genomics to clinical care is an area that continues to evolve. Another significant change has been the emphasis on precision health. Precision health is an emerging approach for symptom management and prevention that considers individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person. Each of these areas are particularly important in cancer research.”
As Grady approaches her well-deserved retirement, she said she knows NINR will continue to promote excellence in nursing research, especially as the institute continues to support future nurse scientists.
“NINR has had a longstanding commitment of training future generations of nurse scientists, through such programs as the Graduate Partnerships Program, Summer Genetics Institute, and NINR Methodologies Boot Camp Series,” Grady said. “I hope to see continued growth surrounding training opportunities for those who will become the future of nursing science. This is especially important because there has been a recent decline in the number of nurses pursuing a research doctorate. It is urgent that NINR and the broader nursing science community develop innovative solutions to reverse this trend.”
Supporting the Role of Nursing Science
NINR stands as a testament to the power of nursing research and its importance in patient care. Grady encouraged current and future nurse researchers to seek the help, resources, and support of their peers, mentors, and national institutes like NINR.
“For nurses considering a career in research, don’t be intimidated, follow your passions, and balance your work with other aspects of your life,” Grady said. “Always seek out mentors and have as many as you can. Science is all about learning from experience. Mentors have experience that you can benefit from across the board: in teaching, research, administration, or leadership. Find a place in your field that resonates with you. Research is an amazing and rewarding career, and I would encourage anyone who is interested to pursue it. You can change the world through your efforts; NINR is there to help.”
For more information about NINR or to apply for funding, visit www.ninr.nih.gov.