Today in the chart

9 Big Questions with ANA President Jennifer Mensik Kennedy

Read on to hear the answers to these questions, and more, from Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, Ph.D., RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, and the President of the American Nurses Association.

Photo courtesy of The American Nurses Association

The Nursing Beat conducted a formal interview with Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, Ph.D., M.B.A., R.N., NEA-BC, FAAN, and the 38th President of the American Nurses Association. Mensik Kennedy has been a nurse for over 25 years and is an accomplished author, nursing leader, and professor.

What is your favorite part about being president of the American Nurses Association?

Jennifer Mensik Kenndy (JMK): My favorite part about being President of the ANA is meeting different nurses from all over the place, seeing their excitement and passion for the profession, and hearing about what they're doing. 

There are so many different paths in nursing. Sometimes we hear many bad things about nursing, but to hear the excitement from nurses about what they're doing and how their passion comes across is what I enjoy most. I often meet them at conferences, speaking engagements, and in academic settings. 

What is the biggest challenge of being president of the ANA?

JMK: The most challenging part about being president is watching what I say 100% of the time. There’s no “Jennifer’s opinion,” ever. It’s all “ANA’s opinion.” If people hear me talk, they assume what I say is an official ANA opinion. 

It is the full embodiment of my role as president to be the spokesman and person for ANA. It’s because people are interested in what the ANA president has to say, and what direction ANA is going, which is a good thing. 

Is the ANA ever afraid to speak on big issues?

JMK: It's tough in a few ways. There are five million nurses, and all of the nurses are representative of the 350-plus million Americans. So we are a sample we are representative of our culture and the areas in which we live. So we have nurses that are Republican, we have nurses that are Democrat, Independent, and all over. It’s a challenge to advance positions while being inclusive of every single person.

We often go back to the Code of Ethics. One question I get is, “What is the ANA stance on unions?” It is a good question. And I say, our Code of Ethics states that nurses can do what they feel that they need to do to advocate for themselves in the work environment. And there's a whole list of possibilities there. And that probably includes unions and collective bargaining. So that's an example of a topic couched within the Code of Ethics that can help direct us.

If the ANA could instantly change one piece of legislation related to nursing, what would it be?

JMK: I would want us to focus on staffing and the work environment. We also need to make sure we continue to have funding to support payment structures for healthcare, like for hospitals, critical access hospitals, and funding for schools of nursing.  

I would ask everyone to join the ANA. And when you join the ANA, you also join your state association. We have a lot of opportunities for people to work on various projects and we prioritize our members. ANA is a home for all nurses.

Why do nurses struggle to come together on key issues?

JMK: We do, and there are mechanisms by which we bring together the communities. We have about 40 organizational affiliates, such as the Emergency Room Nurses Association and the Jewish Nurses Association. 

At the end of June, the ANA has a Membership Assembly, and we have great discussions on topics like gun violence, crisis documentation, virtual nursing, and more. This year, the Membership Assembly is scheduled for June 28th and 29th, 2024. It’s where we decide what ANA will work on over the next year. 

It’s hard when some of our organizational affiliates have differing opinions and take those to Congress. The members of Congress can get confused and say “Why can’t nurses just come together, stand as one, and tell us what they want?” It’s because we have a lot of diverse opinions out there. It’s about trying to reconcile those as best as we can to stand together when we approach Congress. 

How is the ANA concerned with nurse mental health and burnout?

JMK: We are working in D.C. and we talked about last week how important it is to get funding reauthorized for the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Act. There were a lot of resources allocated there for clinician mental health and wellbeing and funding goes every two years. We’re making sure it gets refunded. Just because a bill passes, doesn’t mean it always gets funding.

We also want to make sure nurses know about the Well-Being Initiative, which is free to anybody, regardless of ANA membership status. There are phone numbers and counselors available. 

We’re also working with state boards to prevent them from asking about mental health issues when you renew your license. We don’t believe that should ever be asked and it stops people from seeking help. 

We’re also supporting bills that stop or restrict mandatory overtime. We believe overtime can be an option for nurses who want it, but don’t force nurses to work overtime. 

How would you improve staffing?

JMK: I like Oregon’s staffing bill. It employs staffing committees. Some argue that strict staffing ratios could stifle innovation. But Oregon’s rules include a provision allowing the staffing committee to agree to initiate pilot programs for two years at a time, not necessarily in alignment with the staffing ratios. This gives them the chance to still work differently and see what works while ensuring nursing voices are present. 

What is it like speaking to members of Congress?

JMK: It depends on the Congress member and their viewpoints. We do have a nursing Caucus in the House and the Senate, and groups of representatives, both Republican and Democrat, who meet together on nursing issues. They love hearing stories, so tell them your stories. That’s what they’re looking for. We can go in with all the data, but when they hear a story from someone they represent, that stays with them. For example, a time when you were assaulted at work or you worked too much overtime. They love personal stories to provide context to legislation. You can go to your state-level representatives, you can even email your congressman federally, and tell them your story. Even if you don’t reach the actual member, their staff person is just as important and will communicate your viewpoints to the member of Congress appropriately.

Why should nurses join the ANA?

JMK: I would ask everyone to join the ANA. And when you join the ANA, you also join your state association. We have a lot of opportunities for people to work on various projects and we prioritize our members. ANA is a home for all nurses. 

We don’t make money from lobbying Congress, which is expensive. So, membership dues help us accomplish our work. We would ask everyone to consider joining the American Nurses Association and getting involved at the state and national levels with nursing politics. 

Get Involved in the Nursing Community

The nursing community is diverse, and its opinions, wants, and needs are diverse. By coming together under the umbrella of the American Nurses Association, nurses can fight in solidarity for issues that will strengthen the profession and ensure a better future. 

To learn more about joining the ANA, check out, and click here to learn more about ANA President, Jennifer Mensik Kennedy

For more interviews with industry-leading professionals in nursing, subscribe to The Nursing Beat and visit their blog here.

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