With two-year presidency complete, Ken White looking forward to focusing on “just one job”

Forgive School of Nursing Dean Ken White if he’s not sure what to do with the extra time he has on his hands these days. Sure, heading up a nursing school is enough to eat up any spare time that once existed, but it doesn’t match the frenetic pace of the past two years when the Oklahoma native also led the American Academy of Nursing, the most prestigious nursing organization in the country. Having the change to lead a most esteemed institution, which included becoming the first man president, was a dream come true.

“It's been the highlight of my professional career, and probably my life, to be able to lead and grow the AAN,” said Dr. White. 

Earlier this month, the Academy celebrated its 50th anniversary at a gala and conference in Washington, DC. The three-day session featured celebrations, panel discussions, and the induction of 253 distinguished nurse leaders - the Academy’s largest class ever - as Fellows, who spanned 40 states and 13 countries. Making the induction extra special for White was seeing four IHP School of Nursing leaders - Associate Professors Suellen Breakey, Rebecca Hill, Brenna Morse, and Margie Sipe - inducted in the cohort. 

But when the conference ended, so did White’s two-year tenure, a bittersweet moment after reaching the pinnacle of his career. As he turned the gavel over to new president Dr. Linda Scott and returns to doing just one job – leading the nursing school of which he became dean in July 2021 – he reflected on the opportunity and the accomplishments. 

“I set out to do a few things, and I'm pleased that we made progress on all of those areas,” said White, who pointed to the following six key accomplishments: 

  • Strengthening the business model and strategic governance of the Academy
  • Modernizing, streamlining, and upgrading the Fellow selection process 
  • Revising and gaining approval of the Academy’s bylaws 
  • Influencing policy with record numbers of policy briefs, dialogs, and collaborative partnerships 
  • Strengthening equity, diversity, inclusivity, and belonging 
  • Building a foundation for development and a culture of philanthropy

Along with making sure the Academy was on sound financial footing, White focused on its future and how it could continue to be relevant. With an aging membership – the average age is 69 – White knew he had to widen the membership net and include people earlier in their careers and expand the diversity of careers and organizational roles within nursing.

“During my term, we culminated a four-year process of analyzing and revamping the Fellow selection process to make it more inclusive, to make it more seamless in the way that the applications are being reviewed,” White said, adding there had been a 250% increase in international applicants. “We're trying to grow that in a way that is thoughtful to ensure the Fellow credential is more than an honorific title. We want to be sure we also engage all Fellows in the work of the Academy.”