Halfway through his term, Dr. White has strengthened AAN’s policy aims, increased diversity, equity, and inclusion, and focused on Fellow’s sense of belonging

Now more than halfway through his tenure as President of the American Academy of Nursing, Dr. Ken White, Dean of MGH Institute’s School of Nursing, is making his mark on the organization. 

The American Academy of Nursing serves the public by advancing health policy and practice through the generation, synthesis, and dissemination of nursing knowledge. Academy Fellows are inducted into the organization for their extraordinary contributions to improve health locally and globally. With nearly 3,000 Fellows, the Academy represents nursing’s most accomplished leaders in policy, research, administration, practice, and academia. The Academy’s mission is to improve health and achieve health equity by impacting policy through nursing leadership, innovation, and science. 

“I wanted four pillars to guide my work,” says White, the first man to hold the position in the organization’s nearly 50-year history. “Those pillars are strength, culture, colleagues, and community.” 

White has remained committed to those pillars. In the past year, the Academy has strengthened its position as a policy organization. It has hosted policy dialogues on topics ranging from the pediatric mental health crisis to the quality of care provided in nursing homes, signed on to numerous amicus briefs with partner organizations on pressing issues ranging from maternal health to gender-affirming care, and published a position statement on firearm safety and violence prevention. 

“The Academy’s mission is driven by our passion for better health for all. One way to accomplish that is by continuously advocating for policies that put equitable population health first,” says White.  

Dr. White has remained steadfast in his commitment to strengthening and modernizing the organization during his service as President, examples include revamping the Fellowship application process, shepherding in bylaws revisions, and bolstering the organization’s partnership with the National Academy of Medicine through the launch of a new health policy Fellowship program. 

“We’re really creating a much stronger organization for the future,” says White. Part of that strength comes from fundraising he has spearheaded. He’s the first AAN president to receive a gift of more than $100,000 from a Fellow. 

“That’s something that is really monumental,” says White, “and it’s a big part of my first year that I’m really proud of.”

“You Belong”

White’s biggest focus, one that’s most important to him, has been redeveloping a sense of community and connection amongst Fellows. 

“So many new inductees come up to me and say, ‘I don’t always believe I deserve to be here,’” says White. “I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating a sense of belonging within the Academy.”

When the Fellowship was established in 1973, it was comprised of nursing education and practice leaders but primarily the thirty-six charter Fellows served in academic roles. In 2022, White welcomed one of the organization’s largest and most diverse classes. Comprised of nurses in practice, nurse administrators, nurse lawyers, and nurse economists, it reflects the profession as it is today. 

“We have nurses who started their own businesses who are innovators and entrepreneurs,” says White. “We have nurse researchers that are not part of an academic setting but part of a hospital or health system so we’re really diversifying our Fellows and showing that if you make an impact on nursing, especially in terms of health equity, you belong here. This is no longer just for academics.” 

He has taken special care to ensure each one of the new Fellows feel a personal connection to their recognition. At the annual Fellows breakfast during its Annual Health Policy Conference and Induction Ceremony, White spoke about imposter syndrome and assured the Fellows that their work was groundbreaking in its own unique way. Then, as each new Fellow joined White on stage at the induction ceremony, he shook their hands and took a moment to address then each individually. 

“I said to each one of them: ‘This is a night you’re going to remember for the rest of your life and I’m honored to share it with you. You belong,” White says. “It was really meaningful for all of us. In the past, the ceremony was more formal and I was passionate about making it more celebratory.”

Looking Forward

As White heads into 2023 and completes his two-year term, he’s excited to begin the celebration year of a three-year arc that was established by the Board of Directors during his tenure.

“As we looked at a way to mark 50 years of the Academy, we wanted to take our time marking the milestone, so we came up with three phases,” says White. “2022 was our year of reflection. As we head into 2023, we begin our year of celebration. In 2024, the Academy will look to invent a new future.  

White emphasizes that while the organization has much to celebrate, it was important to stop and reflect first. “In our history, there have been mis-steps,” he says. “We had to have a real reckoning.” 

White says it was important to consider its history and reckon with some of its failings, especially in terms of the way it has treated nurses of color in the past. As a part of that reckoning, White and AAN leadership brought in a consultant to make sure that the Fellow selection process was un-biased and reflective of the diversity that exists within the patients and communities that nurses serve.

Also, during White’s tenure on the Board, the Academy’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Committee produced a revised equity, diversity, and inclusivity statement.

“I’m comfortable admitting that I am a gay, cis-white man, so I have a lot to learn but I’m willing to learn. Everyone in the Academy is.”

White’s looking forward to the Academy’s continued work in fully implementing its revised equity, diversity, and inclusivity statement, as well as their principles of engagement – all designed to also foster inclusivity and belonging within the Fellowship.

“I remember being so inspired by a fellow palliative care nurse who was inducted into the Academy the year I was,” says White. “I could never remember her name but her work in hospice care for those who are incarcerated really stuck with me.” White mentioned that moment at a recent Academy national advisory council meeting. Dr. Susan Loeb, once again seated next to White, leaned over and smiled. “That was me,” she said.

“The Academy is special,” says White. “Fellowship is interconnected, and I’m honored to be a part of it.” 

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