Clinical Professor Barb Pinekenstein Earns a Top Nursing Honor

In recognition of her extensive work to mentor nurses and develop nurse leaders, University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing faculty member is among the new class of Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing

By Jennifer Garrett
Photography By Alexander André

Portrait of Barb Pinekenstein in Cooper Hall


Dr. Barb Pinekenstein has some unfinished business. She has tried to retire twice, but one thing keeps pulling the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing clinical professor back to work.

“I want my legacy to be the development of nurse leaders. I’m really clear on that, and that’s why I’m here,” Pinekenstein says.

Pinekenstein, a clinical professor in the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing, has spent her entire career in nursing. Most of it was practice—first as a staff nurse, then a clinical nurse specialist and later spent two decades as a chief nursing officer and vice president for clinical informatics. The past four years have been dedicated to nursing education at the School of Nursing, where she was named the inaugural Richard E. Sinaiko Professor in Health Care Leadership. During much of that time she served on the board of the Wisconsin Center for Nursing, the state’s first nursing workforce center, which has earned national recognition for the organization for workforce planning, leader development, and fostering diversity in the nursing profession.

While she worked in different capacities in each organization, there was also one constant from role to role: leadership development. Wherever she could, Pinekenstein worked to establish formal mentoring programs to help nurses identify professional and personal goals and then strategically pursue them. Embedded in all her mentoring work was a concerted effort to convince nurses to seek and hold board positions not only in healthcare systems but also community organizations so they could share their experiences, ideas, and unique perspective.

“I would like to see nurses on boards everywhere, including community boards where their vision and passion for improving the health of their communities would make a difference,” Pinekenstein says, listing off the various kinds of organizations that could benefit from a nurse’s expertise and insight. The Red Cross. The United Way. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Even places like Old World Wisconsin and the local library boards.

“As nurses we have skill sets we can bring to a lot of different settings, not just healthcare,” she says. “Nurses excel at assessment, collaboration, and quality improvement. Nurses are great problem solvers and transformers.”

However, Pinekenstein believes health system board participation by nurses is essential as organizations face aging populations and nursing workforce issues, along with increasing practice and system complexity and, of course, mounting financial pressures. With the nursing staff among the largest—if not the largest—human resource line item in a health system budget, nurses, an ultimately patients, will definitely feel the impact and possibly bear the brunt of any cost-cutting measures. Systems need nurses contributing to those important conversations, Pinekenstein says, because no one knows nursing and healthcare better than nurses. They know and can anticipate how decisions about nurse staffing and systems will affect work conditions and care delivery processes, as well as patient safety and outcomes.

Unfortunately, many decisions are made without a nurse in the room. According to the American Hospital Association in 2017, the nursing workforce claimed 3.6 million nurses, but only five percent of hospitals had a nurse serving as a trustee.

“That’s really low,” Pinekenstein says. “It’s concerning. Understanding the research and science of staffing is critically important. For example, we know that fatigue in nurses and nurses leaders is an issue, but I don’t believe health system leaders are fully aware of the extent and the problems it causes for nurses, patients and health systems.”

It is hard for health system leadership, she says, to address issues like nurse fatigue when the people who understand it best—the nurses, the nurse managers, the chief nursing officers, and researchers —are not involved or heard.

“Nursing should have a voice at the leadership table to make sure all providers have the resources and environment they need to provide exceptional care,” she says, “and to make sure we can advocate not just for resources but also for a healthy work environment.”

Associate Professor Linsey Steege, a human factors engineer on the School of Nursing faculty, works closely with Pinekenstein to study fatigue among nurse managers and executives. Steege sees the impact of all of Pinekenstein’s work but especially her commitment to developing nurse leaders at the school and beyond. “I think Barb is motivated by her own experiences as a nurse leader and by also wanting to support future nurses and nursing leaders in their scholarship and practice,” Steege says. “She is a great teacher and loves working with students in and out of the classroom.  She sees the potential for research to positively impact practice and is constantly identifying strategies to help facilitate that translation.”

In recognition of her work to advance nurse leadership, Pinekenstein was named to the 2018 class of Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing. One of nursing’s highest honors, fellowship recognizes nurses who have made significant contributions to nursing and healthcare. Pinekenstein is among 195 distinguished nurses to be inducted this year at the academy’s annual policy conference in November.

“Dr. Pinekenstein’s work to advance nurse leadership and promote board participation among nurses is both unique and essential for the health and wellbeing of nurses, patients, and entire communities,” says Dr. Linda D. Scott, School of Nursing dean and professor. “We are honored to celebrate her accomplishments and fortunate to have her contributions to our mission of preparing nurse leaders for the future of care delivery in Wisconsin and beyond.”