A lengthy and accomplished career transitioning, White calls decision “bittersweet” but says time is right to step away

For 51 years, he’s been in healthcare, nursing, and higher education and has enjoyed a career that surpassed his wildest expectations. For Dr. Kenneth White, it’s time to focus on the next chapter of life, which is why he will step away from serving as Dean of the MGH Institute’s School of Nursing. His final day is July 5.

After wrapping up his two-year presidency of the American Academy of Nursing in October, the idea of walking away was in the back of his mind, but the timing wasn’t clear. Over the holidays, however, when White was able to take some time off and reflect on what was important to him and his family, clarity set in, and so did his end date.

“As a palliative care nurse practitioner, in particular, I know the frailty of life, and that tomorrow is not promised to any of us,” said White. “So often I've had my patients tell me, ‘I kept working, and a month after I retired, I had a heart attack,’ or ‘I had a stroke’ or whatever. I want to be able to get back to what matters, which is health, fitness, gardening, and some other things that will be a healthy lifestyle to take me into future decades.”

When White retires in July to his primary home in Charlottesville, VA, he will have served three years as dean.

“When I look at the progress and accomplishments that we have made in the School of Nursing,” surmised the Oklahoma native, “I think now is a good time for me to make the decision to move on to that part of my life where I can choose to focus on more personal relationships and things I haven't had the time to do.

“I think the best time to walk away is when things are going well, and when you're on top. And I feel like this is at the very top of my career in terms of feeling good about accomplishments, feeling good about the team that I worked with, and feeling good about their ability to continue elevating the school and student experience.”

White broke the news to his School of Nursing colleagues on Friday; a note informing the IHP community was sent out earlier today by Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Reamer Bushardt.

“When Ken assumed the role of dean, he collaborated to set strategic priorities for nursing, focusing on a healthy work environment, equity, visibility, scholarship, infrastructure, and nursing out loud,” wrote Bushardt, in part. “Under Ken's leadership, our School of Nursing has not only met its goals but has embraced excellence across all facets, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to progress.”

A search committee has been appointed and will be led by Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Cahn and Director of Faculty Development Dr. Elaine Tagliareni, who served as interim School of Nursing Dean before White was appointed.

“it’s great that we have Elaine, who knows the job, who's done the job, and is well-known, a well-positioned nurse faculty member, and Peter, who understands the academic expectations for the job and together they will bring the best candidates forward, said White.

An expert in healthcare management and leadership, White didn’t become a nurse until his late 30s, a career he blended with his background as a healthcare executive the Mercy Health System. After working as professor of Health Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University, White decided to obtain nurse practitioner credentials with a specialty in palliative care. He then joined the University of   Virginia’s School of Nursing as associate dean while maintaining a palliative care practice. In 2021,  he was hired by the IHP to become the first man to head up the School of Nursing at the IHP. 

“Not only did Ken bring wealth of experience in academia, health care, and administration to the job, but he also challenged the status quo to bring a bold vision to the School of Nursing. His ability to motivate and shape an organization toward excellence is testament to his affiliative approach to leadership. His clear direction and compassion for the members of the IHP community has made him a very successful School of Nursing dean,” said IHP President Paula Milone-Nuzzo, a nurse herself. “He’s not afraid to ask the question, ‘Why not?’ and then work with others to accomplish a goal. That collaborative, can-do approach is the reason we recruited him to the IHP. He has contributed so much to the School of Nursing, and we’ll miss him when he goes.”

Accomplishments Aplenty

Although White has forged relationships across the MGB system,  perhaps the most significant accomplishment during his leadership was growing the relationship with Massachusetts General Hospital, one fueled largely by the partnership with MGH Chief Nursing Officer Dr. Debbie Burke. IHP nursing students became a priority, clinical placements and job offers increased dramatically, scholarships were introduced, and last year, White was named Associate Chief Nurse for Academic Affairs at MGH while Burke was named Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs at the IHP.

“I couldn’t have done as much as we got done without Debbie Burke,” said White. “Things started to really change once I connected with her.”

Burke agrees the strong bond has been mutually beneficial.

“Our conversations, collaborations, and strategy sessions through the years have been key to building a stronger academic-practice partnerships,” said Burke. “Our relationship is based on ‘mutual sharing;’ Ken shares with us what students need for the best clinical experiences, and we share with him best practices to be incorporated into the curriculum so that students can transition into practice easier.

“Our partnership has helped blur the lines between the School of Nursing and MGH. Not only has Ken opened the hospital’s eyes to what’s possible with the IHP’s nursing students, but we’ve also learned all the school has to offer MGH, which is more than a pipeline of nurses. We have created research collaborations and programs to address climate change, among other initiatives. Our relationship has been a game-changer for both sides.”

Other accomplishments during White’s tenure include:

When White began the job in July 2021, he met with every staff and faculty member involved with the School of Nursing, then held a retreat where he unveiled five topics to focus on, which were under the heading of “Nursing Out Loud:”

  • Maintain a healthy working environment while focusing on equity and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) values
  • Raising nurses’ visibility
  • Growing scholarship and research
  • Strengthening infrastructure and resource development
  • Deepen connections with students and each other

“Those are my values, that's what I have tried to accomplish, and I believe that we've done all those things,” concluded White. “From the feedback I've received, it's come together and coalesced.”

The Next Chapter

While this stellar career will transition in six months, White says he’ll keep his foot on the gas pedal until the very end.

“There are plenty of things that that we need to do to keep the momentum going,” he said.

Among the initiatives: acclimating a new dean’s council, enrollment marketing efforts, and budget needs, along with a full review of curriculum and programs to remain competitive.

When White does ride off into the Virginia sunset, he expects to keep busy with duties as immediate Past President of the Academy of Nursing, and the lead author of the 10th edition of an award-winning textbook, ,The Well Managed Healthcare Organization.

As he surveys accomplishments and what’s ahead, White has nothing but pride and admiration for his team of nursing colleagues who helped make it all possible.

“We had people who were willing to come together and do what needed to be done, and they didn’t complain – they did it together as a team,” said an admiring dean. “That's what it's like in the School of Nursing. We came together and did what needed to be done. It’s remarkable the commitment the people have here.”

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