The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) will present Kathleen Puntillo, RN, DNSc, FAAN, and Judith Nelson, MD, JD, with its AACN Pioneering Spirit Award.

This AACN Visionary Leader Award recognizes significant contributions that influence high-acuity and critical care nursing and relate to the association’s mission, vision and values. The presentation will occur during the 2017 National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition, Houston, May 22-25.

Puntillo is professor emerita and research scientist in the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Nelson is a critical care physician and chief of Palliative Medicine Service at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York.

Since 1999, the two have collaborated on research, writing and education related to the integration of palliative care with critical care. Their work has been instrumental in the shift from viewing palliative care as a sequel to unsuccessful treatment to being part of a patient-centered approach to care throughout the trajectory of serious or critical illness, including for patients pursuing aggressive treatments to prolong life, cure disease and restore health.

“This award recognizes their contributions to high-acuity and critical care nursing through pioneering work in improving palliative care in the ICU,” said AACN Chief Clinical Officer Connie Barden, RN, MSN, CCRN-K, CCNS. “Their long-standing body of innovative interprofessional research underscores the value of true collaboration as an essential part of producing optimal patient and family outcomes as well as a healthy work environment.”

Together, Nelson and Puntillo, with other clinicians and researchers, developed the iPAL-ICU project in 2010, to improve palliative care of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and support their families. Supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), the initiative facilitates the application of emerging knowledge of palliative care into clinical practice. The online platform shares resources—including expertise, evidence and tools—to help clinicians, leaders and hospital administrators successfully integrate intensive and palliative care. Nelson continues to serve as the project’s director.

Puntillo earned both her master’s and doctor of nursing science degrees from UCSF before joining the faculty at her alma mater. In 2002, she established the first palliative care course at UCSF School of Nursing and has since been at the forefront of training advanced practice nurses to be part of palliative care teams. She retired from full-time teaching in 2009 to concentrate on research.

AACN previously recognized Puntillo with the 2012 Marguerite Rodgers Kinney Award for a Distinguished Career and the 2003 Distinguished Research Lecture award. 

A graduate of Smith College, Nelson earned her law degree from Harvard Law School and her medical degree from New York University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine. From 1992 through early 2015, she taught and practiced at Mount Sinai.  


About the AACN Pioneering Spirit Award: The annual AACN Pioneering Spirit Award recognizes significant contributions that influence high-acuity and critical care nursing regionally and nationally, and relate to AACN’s mission, vision and values. Recipients of this Visionary Leadership Award come from business, academia and healthcare, and receive a plaque and $1,000 honorarium at the National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition. Other Visionary Leadership awards, AACN’s highest honor, include AACN’s Lifetime Member Award and the Marguerite Rodgers Kinney Award for a Distinguished Career.

About the National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition: Established in 1974, AACN’s National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition (NTI) represents the world’s largest educational conference and trade show for nurses who care for acutely and critically ill patients and their families. Bedside nurses, nurse educators, nurse managers, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners attend NTI.

About the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: Founded in 1969 and based in Aliso Viejo, California, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world. AACN represents the interests of more than half a million acute and critical care nurses and has more than 200 chapters throughout the United States. The organization’s vision is to create a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients and their families in which acute and critical care nurses make their optimal contribution.

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 101 Columbia, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656-4109;  949-362-2000;;;



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