ANA’s 38th president starts her term on January 1, 2023.
Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, starts her 2-year term as 38th president of the American Nurses Association (ANA) on January 1, 2023. Elected by the ANA Membership Assembly in June 2022, Mensik Kennedy looks forward with excitement to representing the nation’s 4.3 million RNs. Her future columns in American Nurse Journal will outline goals and priorities of ANA and her presidency.
Mensik Kennedy enters the presidency having served in ANA leadership positions for more than a decade, most notably as a director-at-large of the Board of Directors (2010–2012) and as treasurer and chair of the Finance, Investment, and Audit Committee (2018–2021). She also served as president of the Arizona Nurses Association from 2007–2010. Mensik Kennedy currently resides in Eugene, Oregon, and holds membership with the Oregon Nurses Association.
Among clinical and academic positions, Mensik Kennedy served as system director of clinical practice at Banner Health in Arizona and as administrator at St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center in Meridian, Idaho. Most recently, as an assistant professor of clinical nursing at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Nursing, she taught graduate-level courses in health economics and finance and health policy and population health.
Mensik Kennedy earned her PhD in nursing from the University of Arizona. She also holds an MBA in healthcare administration from the University of Phoenix and BSN and ADN degrees from Washington State University and Wenatchee Valley College, respectively. This Q&A highlights her professional and personal journey.
What led you to become a nurse?
My mom, Susan Weeks, DNP, ARNP, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, was in nursing school when I was in high school, so that was my starting point. I grew up in Tonasket, Washington, a small town about half an hour’s drive from the Canadian border in the East Central part of the state. This is in apple country, and I picked and thinned a lot of apples, which made me realize I didn’t want to do so long-term, and definitely was going to college.
My high school had a program that paid for community college courses and students were able to earn both high school and college credits. I got into this program, started on my associate degree, and haven’t looked back.
Your educational and career experiences have been more management and systems focused than clinically based. What led you in this direction?
Living in a rural area, I had in mind initially to become a nurse practitioner. However, as I got into my BSN program, I found that I liked my leadership course more than say, anatomy and physiology or pharmacology. That was a light bulb moment for me. When I was pursuing my MBA, a lot of my classmates weren’t nurses and hadn’t provided patient care but had ideas about fixing the healthcare system. This made me reflect on how I, as a nurse, was going to dig down into the values of nursing and move the profession and healthcare forward from a leadership and management perspective. I kept this theme going with my doctoral work, which involved a major in healthcare systems and a minor in public administration.
I also have to give a shout-out to my high school teacher, Mrs. Colbert, who taught a leadership course. Under her guidance we completed projects, such as conducting surveys that enabled our little town to get a grant for the sewage system. Those efforts helped me see how much impact I could have through leadership.
Which single word best describes you?
People who know me would say I’m calm. This generally is a good thing, but sometimes it might leave the impression that I’m aloof. That’s not the case at all; it’s just that I’m an introvert. While appearing calm, I’m reacting in my head—thinking through a conversation, a situation. I should add, I’m a learned extrovert—happy to meet and engage with ANA members!
Who have been your mentors and notable leaders?
Many people have inspired me, but I would be remiss in not calling out for this publication Marla Weston, PhD, RN, FAAN, former CEO of ANA. She and I were in the same PhD program, and at that time she was executive director of the Arizona Nurses Association. She was very welcoming in urging me to join ANA, and that in turn opened a whole set of doors and introduced me to people who have been important to my professional development.
How do you support your own resiliency?
Even on a busy day I like to get at least half an hour’s walk outside. I also like to cook and bake, and I run and hike. My family likes to camp, and we’re extensive travelers. This past summer we went to Alaska, and it was great getting out as a family and seeing new things and cultures.
What about you would most surprise people?
My husband, Jesse Mensik Kennedy, BSN, RN, and I are the parents of six children, ages 10 to 16! Our blended family of five boys and one girl is a swarm of activity in the best way possible. Jesse may be known to many ANA members as a former president of the National Student Nurses Association and as a past director-at-large of ANA.
The pandemic has profoundly changed nurses, nursing, and healthcare. How would you describe these changes and what they mean for the future of the profession and ANA?
The pandemic has been a stressor to our profession and our society that we haven’t seen since polio was endemic. How these stressors play out circles back to ANA’s vision, a healthy world through the power of nursing. Putting even more effort into nurses’ well-being and addressing racism in nursing will improve the health of our profession and ultimately our communities. Enabling APRNs nationwide to practice to the full scope of their authority and achieving payment parity for them will unblock barriers to community health that have been in place for far too long. We also have to find ways to bring back into active practice nurses who have left—we absolutely need their brilliance, competency, and compassion for the benefit of the nation’s health.
Genna Rollins, a writer/editor at American Nurses Association, conducted this interview.