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Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, the newly anointed president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), comes to her position at a time when nursing faces more challenges than perhaps at any other moment in recent memory.

As the head of ANA, she is faced with a workforce contending with issues such as mental health challenges, burnout, staff shortages, and workplace violence, most of them fallout from a pandemic that has lasted more than two years.

One of the big lessons learned from the pandemic, she notes in an interview with Daily Nurse, is “the importance of well-being for the workforce.” With “so many more deaths and colleagues dying of COVID, we continued to hunker down on that belief that we need to be more resilient or I need to take care of people until people broke, nurses broke. We need to have a continuous structure in place that manages and helps nurses and healthcare professionals to maintain well-being at all times, not just during a massive pandemic,” Kennedy says.

In December, the American Nurses Foundation, an arm of the ANA, along with the United Health Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of UnitedHealth Group, announced a three-year, $3.1 million partnership to fight nurse burnout with a stress & burnout prevention pilot program. According to a press release, the program is designed to remove the stigma associated with seeking mental health support and offer a new burnout prevention model to help nurses use mental health resources earlier and more effectively.

Become a Nurse and Create Change

While nursing shortages can be cyclical, with economic downturns and waves of retirement, the pandemic has worsened the situation, notes Kennedy. “What are long-term sustainable solutions that really will stop us from continuing to go through this cycle?” asks Kennedy. “I think through those solutions, we’ll see that nursing is invaluable to the health of our country and our communities and elevate that voice of nursing and demonstrate that value.”

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To that point, In a June 2022 online survey, the American Nurses Foundation and Joslin Insight asked nurses how often their unit has the necessary number of RN staff with the right knowledge and skills. For acute care hospitals, 55% of nurses indicated that less than half the time, their unit needs to have the necessary number, says the survey report.

“Practically speaking, this means that 28% of the time a patient enters an acute-care setting, they are likely entering a unit nurses believe is lacking the appropriate staff to provide quality care,” says the report. This Workplace Survey, a continuation of the Pulse on the Nation’s Nurses Survey Series, also reports on issues such as the ability to take time off from work and intent to leave the profession.

Still, Kennedy notes, for individuals considering becoming a nurse, “there are a lot of excellent organizations with great work environments, great shared leadership who value and listen to nurses. You’ll be able to find your niche and the area you can contribute to. Jump in and help us become part of that voice to make change.”

ANA Focuses on Creating a Safer Workspace

During her time as president of the ANA, Kennedy hopes to work on issues related not only to well-being, but also to workplace violence. “We need to make some serious changes and put into place legislation and practices and organizations that keep our nurses safe in the workplace,” Kennedy says. “We need to operationalize and practice safe staffing, whatever that looks like for the organization, the state, and nationally.” Fighting racism is also on her radar screen, pointing to the work of the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing.

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Listening to Nurses

A repeated concern from nurses is “the failure to listen to nurses from an organizational perspective. That negatively impacts well-being and doesn’t make it a good work environment when an organization doesn’t listen.”

Kennedy says that organizations need to bring nurses to the table through shared governance or leadership to determine safe patient care. This needs to be done “with the nurses’ expertise because they’re the ones that live it, and they know what needs to be done.”

On an individual level, to have nurses’ voices heard, “one way would be to start to participate in their shared governance, shared leadership at their local facility,” Kennedy says.

And, she says, if an organization needs a shared governance model, a nurse can pull information together, present it to their manager, and ask the leadership to start that shared governance model.

Nurses can also join boards and run for elected positions, she notes. But if that’s not feasible, connect with your state or federal representative and “let them know about your experiences as a nurse. We have amazing, fantastic stories about what we do every day.

Nurses tend to say, ‘I’m just a nurse. I don’t know anything.’ Yet, you have such an amazing view of society, and people need to know those stories. Sharing stories with others about what nursing is and what nursing does helps to get our collective voice out there.”

ANA is Creating a Stronger Voice for Nurses

Kennedy feels that “nursing as a profession has never been stronger despite today’s numerous challenges. We are rising to make sure our voice is heard because we are tired of not being seen as valued and not being heard. I feel that people are starting to listen across the country and the world — our voices are getting louder. I want to provide that light for all nurses that we are making and seeing change and that we need to continue working together to create a stronger profession.”

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