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NINR's Grady Manages Science With Science

By Robert Bock

For NINR director Dr. Patricia Grady, the management of science is science. Or, at least, amenable to the scientific approach.

"I approach my job the same way a scientist approaches a problem," she said. "Collect the data, analyze it, look for the best possible approaches and solutions, weigh them and then make a decision."

This process, she said, never ceases. For her, data collection is constant, and information must be evaluated and reevaluated.

Dr. Patricia Grady

"We don't get locked into an all or nothing-at-all-approach," she said. "If one approach works, then fine. If it doesn't, then we try another approach."

Grady became director of NINR in 1995, after serving as acting director and deputy director of NINDS. A neuroscience researcher in stroke, she managed the extramural programs in stroke and brain imaging at her former institute.

A major role of nursing research, she explained, is to develop the best ways to help people deal with chronic illness. "Chronic illness steps in and decreases our independence and our ability to function as part of society," she said. "One of our institute's major roles is to identify approaches to help people either maintain that independence, or even gain it back."

Although the nursing profession isn't new, Grady said, nursing research is. There are comparatively few nurse researchers, so NINR must spend a greater percent of its budget to train new researchers than do other institutes.

Critical, she said, is the length of time needed to train nursing researchers. Because potential candidates traditionally have obtained clinical experience after the bachelor's and master's levels, most don't earn their doctorates until their mid to late forties. Not only does this mean that they begin their careers much later than researchers in many other fields, it also results in fewer years to actually conduct research.

As always, NINR staff approach this problem scientifically. They are first collecting data and seeking the advice of top researchers around the country. During this process, a group of investigators devised a proposal for an experimental accelerated baccalaureate-through-doctorate training program. Other schools around the country are now testing similar programs.

In choosing staff for the institute, Grady, like other NIH directors, recruits the best people she can find, and tries to create circumstances under which they can excel. She also looks for people who are adept at working with others. She asks staffers who are working on a particular problem to identify more than one possible solution so that she might develop with them the best possible plan.

Although Grady is the only woman among NIH institute directors, she does not feel this makes her job more difficult. Her fellow institute directors, she said, are always willing to share their information and expertise. She added that women leaders who have preceded her have led to a more widespread acceptance of women in government and science. There are more women in the pipeline now than ever before. In particular, she emulates the leadership style of HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, who also encourages and rewards teamwork. Similarly, she admires acting NIH director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein's inclusive style of leadership, which makes everyone working with her feel like an important part of the team.

Although NINR has come a long way in raising the profile of nursing research, Grady said, the task is far from complete. "One of my goals is that within 5 years, everyone will be able to cite examples of how nursing research is making a difference," she said.

(The author is press officer for NICHD and a graduate of the NIH Management Cadre class of 2000. This article resulted from an assignment to study science and leadership at NIH. Information about the cadre program is available at

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