Chicago professor, nurse to lead National Institute of Nursing Research

Shannon Zenk portrait
Shannon Zenk

University of Illinois at Chicago professor Shannon Zenk has been selected by the National Institutes of Health to lead its National Institute of Nursing Research, or NINR.

Zenk, Nursing Collegiate Professor at the UIC College of Nursing, is expected to join the NINR in the fall.

“Dr. Zenk’s diverse and original research experience paired with her expertise as a nurse educator make her an ideal choice to lead NIH’s efforts in nursing science,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins in a news release.

According to the NIH, Zenk will oversee NINR’s annual budget of nearly $170 million, which mostly supports research at institutions across the nation. These research programs seek to improve the lives of people with health conditions and to develop personalized strategies for wellbeing. NINR research also studies ways to better understand health conditions and manage symptoms.

“I commend the NIH for selecting Dr. Zenk to lead its National Institute of Nursing Research,” said UIC Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. Robert Barish. “We are proud of Dr. Zenk for her many accomplishments at UIC and her contributions to our academic and health research programs and we are certain that she will be a powerful ally to institutions across the country working to advance nursing science.”

Zenk, a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, joined the UIC College of Nursing in 2006 and during her tenure with the university she has held multiple positions, including director of team science for the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, chair of the Campus Research Board Social Sciences Committee, and member of the UI Health Mile Square Health Center Research Council.

“Dr. Zenk’s impact on the College of Nursing and the nursing profession cannot be overstated,” said Terri Weaver, dean of the UIC College of Nursing. “Given her scientific strength, keen understanding of the challenges facing health care, and dedication to the promotion of health equity, Dr. Zenk will be an incredible champion for the development and execution of science that will address societal needs. On behalf of the entire College of Nursing, I congratulate Dr. Zenk on her selection as the next director of the National Institute of Nursing Research and I thank her for her countless contributions to UIC.”

Zenk’s research portfolio focuses on health and social inequities. Her work has sought to identify effective, multi-level approaches to improve outcomes and eliminate racial/ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities. Zenk’s work studying urban food environments, community health solutions, and veterans’ health has been continuously supported by the NIH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In her pioneering research on food deserts, Zenk and her colleagues helped bring national attention to the problem of inadequate access to healthful foods in low-income and Black neighborhoods.

“I am honored to be selected to lead the National Institute of Nursing Research and I look forward to working with Director Collins and my colleagues across NIH,” said Zenk, who is also a research fellow at UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy. “Nursing puts the patient, family, and community at the center of practice and of research. Nursing research, which addresses the biological, behavioral, social and environmental factors that affect our health, is vital to improve the health of patients and populations, strengthen our health care system, and achieve health equity. As our country faces critical challenges impacting our health, including the coronavirus pandemic, structural racism, and so many others, nursing research is more important than ever. It is a privilege to join the NINR and support its staff, partner institutions and life-changing research programs.”

Zenk was inducted into the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame in 2019. In her career, Zenk has also spent time as a visiting scholar in Rwanda and Australia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, magna cum laude, from Illinois Wesleyan University. Zenk earned a Master of Science degree and Master of Public Health degree in public health nursing and community health sciences from UIC and a doctoral degree in health behavior and health education from the University of Michigan.

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