Nursing & Healthcare News

Q&A with Jennifer Mensik Kennedy

The new ANA president on the nursing workforce, telehealth, and health equity

Headshot of Jennifer Mensik Kennedy

On January 1, Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, RN, Ph.D., MBA, NEA-BC, FAAN, began her two-year tenure as president of the American Nurses Association. Working Nurse asked Kennedy for her thoughts on three current issues facing nursing.

Q: COVID-19 has obviously been a major blow to the nursing workforce. What do you see as the most important elements in rebuilding and strengthening that workforce going forward?

We need to collectively focus on improving the work environment for nurses in all care settings, increasing enrollments into schools of nursing, and retaining but also welcoming back nurses who needed to take a break after the stress of the last few years.

If a nurse needed to take a break from the profession, it wasn’t a failure on them, but rather a failure of the system. We need to ask those nurses to come back, but we also need to fix the system in which they practice.

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Q: The pandemic has brought telehealth to much greater prominence. Is the rise of this technology a positive development, or will it create new challenges for health equity? What can nurses and policymakers do to steer telehealth development in the right direction?

Telehealth is an extremely important care modality. With shortages of nurses and providers being worse in rural areas, telehealth enables nurses to connect with patients who may not otherwise be able to obtain care. In many settings, rural or urban, telehealth can provide care that is equitable.

However, policymakers need to focus on continuing and improving telehealth reimbursement as well as removing barriers to access. The last few years should make everyone recognize that the Internet should be considered a utility, like water and electricity, and a vital part of any household.

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Q: What do you see as the biggest issues in healthcare equity today? What should nurses be doing to become part of the solution, particularly with regard to racial disparities in patient care?

Nurses — as individuals, as groups and as a profession — need to work together to stop structural and institutional racism. It will take each nurse educating themselves and understanding their own implicit biases. It’s not enough to say, “I am not racist.”

We must also act and operationalize this, calling it out when we see it and standing up for others. This will require our looking at each policy, procedure and job description, and, if need be, rewriting each one to make sure everyone gets equal access to the care they need.

AARON SEVERSON is the associate editor of Working Nurse.

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