In June, the American Nurses Association (ANA) Membership Assembly elected UArizona alumna Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, as the association’s next president to represent the interests of the nation’s more than 4.3 million registered nurses.
Dr. Mensik, who earned her PhD in Nursing from UArizona Nursing in 2006, has more than 25 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings ranging from rural critical access hospitals and home health to hospital administration, and academia. She has served as President of the Arizona Nurses Association and 2nd Vice President and Treasurer of ANA. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing. Dr. Mensik’s term of service as ANA president will begin January 2023.
Although she has gone on to greater and greater career heights, she still pays her respects to her alma mater. “Being a Wildcat Nurse means being innovative,” she says. “Each of you, regardless of education or role, are innovators!” With that sentiment in mind, we recently caught up with Dr. Mensik to learn more about her nursing journey, her path to higher education and leadership, and
What brought you to a career in nursing?
When I was in high school, my mom was in a nursing program for her RN, and I enjoyed listening to what she was learning and doing. So when I was a sophomore, I decided to go into the nursing profession. I had decided to be a Nurse Practitioner at that point, but later I decided to switch paths after my BSN program. I grew up in Washington state, and they have a program called Running Start, which allows Juniors and Seniors in high school to take local community college courses that apply to both high school graduation and college credit. I got my prerequisites completed by the beginning of my senior year and applied directly into the local Associate Degree in Nursing program (ADN).
What was your experience like in the UArizona Nursing PhD program?
I was one of the last cohorts to be in person. Since many of us lived in Phoenix, we were lucky to have courses tele broadcasted to the Phoenix campus. Half of us were in class in Phoenix, the other half in person in Tucson but we were able to interact with each other. The UArizona program has always been ahead of the curve on innovation and having tele broadcast like that was great 20 years ago. I also was very lucky to have been able to get my major focus in health systems. So many of our problems in healthcare are rooted in system issues, and that program focus gave us the educational background and expertise to be leaders nationally on so many issues. There is quite a group of us making a large difference.
Tell us about your career in nursing.
My nursing journey has been very nontraditional. I was never a front line nurse or middle manager in an acute care setting before moving into my formal leadership roles. It’s about acquiring the leadership and management skills in any position you hold that can applied across any role.
My career started 28 years ago when I worked in the local critical access hospital as a kitchen aide. I then moved into a nursing assistant and ward/unit secretary role. During my ADN program I was able to sit for LPN boards and worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). After completing my RN-BSN at Washington State University, I decided I didn’t want to be an NP. I was much more interested in leadership articles, ones written by nurses with MBAs.
So, I moved to Phoenix after I graduated and obtained my MBA. During that program I realized the power nursing has in making real change. I decided to go back to school for my PhD in nursing at the University of Arizona. As I worked on my PhD, I then moved back into home health and hospice as a case manager. During my dissertation time, I did move into a formal leadership role in home care, and then by time I graduated, I was the director of home health. After a few years, I did move into a health system role, overseeing Clinical Practice and Research for numerous facilities in seven states. From there I have held numerous leadership roles in academic and nonacademic health systems, from Executive Director of Quality for UCLA, Administrator for Nursing and Patient Care Services at St Luke’s Health System in Idaho, and division director for care management.
What attracted you to a career in higher education?
I think as nurses, we are also all teachers. I have always taught students; however, teaching has always been an extra position for me in addition to my 9-5 position. With the end in sight for the faculty shortage, I believe that as many of us who can should contribute what we can to helping prepare future nurses in all roles, even if only teaching part time. Also, I learn so much from all of my students. It’s a great way to keep up current issues in so many different areas of nursing practice through discussions and assignments.
Tell us about your research interests.
My current interests surround RN reimbursement for nursing and care coordination services, without a traditional qualifying provider, and how that impacts quality and other outcomes related to those services provided. We have had a program at OHSU for years under our care management department that has worked with Oregon Medicaid to allow RNs and LCSWs bill for community care coordination without an NP or MD. Outcomes for these types of programs, measuring care coordination impact, is very different and needs to be measured over a long period of time. One of our programs was able to demonstrate statistical decrease in ED visits while increase primary care visits in a high-risk group when compared against a similar Medicaid population who did not get the intervention.
What are your priorities as the new national ANA President?
I look forward to sharing my priorities soon. In this role, I will represent the nation’s 4.3 million nurses, the largest group of health care professionals in this country who touch every part of our health care delivery system. This is a pivotal time for the nursing profession as they support COVID-19 recovery efforts, but also recover themselves from the physical and mental strain of the pandemic. Generations of nurses will feel the impact of COVID-19. As ANA President, it is my duty set priorities that consider the profession today, and the future of the profession.
What advice would you give students considering entering the field?
Do it! I have never regretted being a nurse, and I am grateful for all the experiences I have had as a nurse. I could not have imagined where I would be today when I started out. But I rarely said no to an opportunity and had faith in myself to figure out things even if I didn’t have the answers or knowledge to start with.