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Women's Health and Nursing Science

women's health

The mission of the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) is to promote and improve the health of individuals, families, and communities. From premature infants, to adolescents living with diabetes, to elderly cancer survivors coping with pain, nursing research develops the science to help people strengthen the quality of their lives. Nursing science reaches out beyond the boundaries of disease and disciplines to better develop personalized approaches that maximize health and well-being for individuals at all stages of life, across populations and settings.

NINR is committed to supporting research on women’s health through a wide range of research initiatives and investigator-initiated research. The Institute’s research portfolio in women’s health spans a range of topics that affect men and women differently, as well as those that solely affect women. The portfolio consists of research and training grants focused on women’s health within NINR’s four areas of scientific focus: symptom science, wellness, self-management of chronic conditions, and end-of-life and palliative care research.

Advancing Careers for Women

The development of a strong cadre of nurse scientists has been a primary goal of NINR since its establishment. NINR, by the nature of the demographics of the nursing field, primarily funds female scientists. Across the span of their careers, NINR supports scientists through extramural grants, intramural funds, and training programs such as the Summer Genetics Institute, the Graduate Partnerships Program, and the Methodologies Boot Camp.

Research Conducted at NINR

Nurse scientists in the Division of Intramural Research (DIR) conduct research on symptom science and environmental influences on individual health outcomes, digestive disorders, cancer related fatigue, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorders as well as clinical interventions to alleviate these symptoms. DIR research includes some issues that disproportionately affect women such as digestive disorders and fibromyalgia.

Research Funded by NINR

NINR’s Division of Extramural Science Programs (DESP) offers funding opportunities in areas of research that will improve women’s health. NINR priorities include symptom science, wellness, self-management of chronic conditions, and end-of-life and palliative care.

Current Funding Opportunities

How Nursing Research Informs Women’s Health

Recent NINR-supported projects on pregnancy and the microbiome of mother and infants have led to advances in our understanding of these complex interactions on the health of the mother and child, as well as the prevention of problems arising from preterm birth and pregnancy complications.

Other research in women’s health examines health promotion during pregnancy to help prevent obesity and diabetes both during pregnancy and after pregnancy and in other periods of women’s lives.

The Institute also supports research on women’s health beyond topics associated with reproduction, focusing on chronic illness management, symptom science, and prevention. From the impact of genetics on blood pressure and breast cancer, to improving the experience of caregiving, to promoting physical activity and sleep, NINR research improves the health of women across the lifespan.

Research Highlights

  • Alterations in the placental microbiome were observed in women with spontaneous pre-term birth, with additional differences noted in women who developed chorioamnionitis (an infection of the membranes surrounding the fetus). 1
  • An inexpensive, internet-based intervention for adolescent mothers was effective at changing attitudes, perceived control, and seeking treatment for depressive symptoms. 2
  • Researchers identified two distinct and dynamic symptom clusters in women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. 3
  • Several problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies were found to be effective at managing pain and other symptoms among women with a history of ovarian cancer. 4
  • A study of caregivers of stroke victims revealed that women caregivers experience more difficulty with life tasks and suffer higher rates of depressive symptoms than their male counterparts. 5
  • A culturally tailored physical activity intervention for Latinas led by laywomen significantly increased aerobic fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, and daily physical activity levels. 6
  • The majority of female graduate students interviewed reported systemic gender inequities and/or instances of unequal treatment during their PhD training. 7
  • Researchers discovered 12 genes that were expressed differently in women with fibromyalgia compared to healthy controls, an important step towards the development of better testing and therapeutic advances. 8
  • Seven bacteria were found to significantly increase the risk of preterm births, with a stronger effect seen in African American women. The researchers also found that higher levels of an antimicrobial produced by the immune system lowered the risk of preterm birth, with a greater effect in African American women. 9

1 Prince AL, Ma J, Kannan PS, Alvarez M, Gisslen T, Harris RA, Sweeney EL, Knox CL4, Lambers DS, Jobe AH, Chougnet CA, Kallapur SG, Aagaard KM. 2016. The placental membrane microbiome is altered among subjects with spontaneous preterm birth with and without chorioamnionitis. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016 May;214(5):627.e1-627.e16. Epub 2016 Mar 7. PMID: 26965447

2 Logsdon MC, Myers J, Rushton J, Gregg JL, Josephson AM, Davis DW, Brothers K, Baisch K, Carabello A, Vogt K, Jones K, Angermeier J. 2017. Efficacy of an Internet-based depression intervention to improve rates of treatment in adolescent mothers. Arch Womens Ment Health. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 29260321

3 Albusoul RM, Berger AM, Gay CL, Janson SL, Lee KA. 2017 Symptom Clusters Change Over Time in Women Receiving Adjuvant Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer. J Pain Symptom Manage. 53(5):880-886. PMID: 28062343

4 Gilbertson-White S1, Campbell G, Ward S, Sherwood P, Donovan H. 2017. Coping With Pain Severity, Distress, and Consequences in Women With Ovarian Cancer. Cancer Nurs. 40(2):117-123. PMID: 27088608

5 Jessup NM, Bakas T, McLennon SM, Weaver MT. 2015. Are there gender, racial or relationship differences in caregiver task difficulty, depressive symptoms and life changes among stroke family caregivers? Brain Inj. 2015;29(1):17-24. Epub 2014 Aug 20. PMID: 25141098

6 D'Alonzo KT, Smith BA, Dicker LH. 2017. Outcomes of a Culturally Tailored Partially Randomized Patient Preference Controlled Trial to Increase Physical Activity Among Low-Income Immigrant Latinas. J Transcult Nurs. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 28826382

7 Remich, Robin; Jones, Remi; Wood, Christine V; Campbell, Patricia B; McGee, Richard. 2016. How Women in Biomedical PhD Programs Manage Gender Consciousness as They Persist Toward Academic Research Careers.
Acad Med. 91(8): 1119-27. PMID: 27254008

8 Lukkahatai N, Walitt B, Espina A, Wang D, Saligan LN. 2015. Comparing Genomic Profiles of Women With and Without Fibromyalgia. Biol Res Nurs. 2015 Jul;17(4):373-83. Epub 2015 May 26. PMID: 26015072

9 Elovitz MA, Gajer P, Riis V, Brown AG, Humphrys MS, Holm JB, Ravel J. 2019. Cervicovaginal microbiota and local immune response modulate the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery. Nat Commun 2019 Mar 21;10 (1):1305. PMID: 30899005


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