Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN 4487

Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN


ANA President overcomes autoimmune diagnoses and finds self-care on her mini farm

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and not recognized the person staring back at you?

Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, the current president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), has.

During her 2 pregnancies, Jennifer had strange, undiagnosed health problems. Around that time, she was a busy nurse working long shifts, and she felt drained and fatigued. After her children were born, she still didn’t feel right. Her hair was falling out, and despite her love of running, she couldn’t lose weight.

Jennifer knows firsthand that the life of a nurse isn’t easy, and her health problems only added to the stress.

During an appointment with her OB/GYN, she brought up her concerns. Her provider felt her thyroid and realized it was enlarged, so she ordered lab work and an ultrasound.

New Diagnoses Require a Healthy Lifestyle
Jennifer was soon diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, which happens when the body’s own immune system attacks thyroid cells as if they are bacteria or viruses.

For treatment, Jennifer had her thyroid removed and began taking thyroid medications. Her provider also biopsied her thyroid for cancer, but thankfully the results were negative. Soon after all of this, Jennifer was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome, which causes chronic dry eyes and dry mouth.

“I felt so bad for so long, that I didn’t realize it was wrong,” says Jennifer. “When I started taking my medicine and stopped trying to do so much, I started to feel better.”

For Sjögren’s syndrome, Jennifer uses eye drops often and is always drinking water. She also started running again and completed both a half marathon and a full marathon. To keep her autoimmune diseases at bay, she must maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, which keeps her motivated.

“It’s important to be as healthy as I can be,” says Jennifer. “If I don’t take care of myself, I could develop other autoimmune diseases like diabetes or lupus.”

Nature as Medicine for Mental Health
With Jennifer’s diagnoses behind her, she moved forward and found new ways to take care of herself. One of her most beloved self-care tactics is to be outside as much as possible.

Jennifer lives on a small farm with a handful of animals, flower and vegetable gardens, and 5 acres of land to roam. Rain or shine, she gets outside every day — whether she’s feeding the animals, checking to see what new plants are sprouting up, watering and weeding the gardens, or watching her roses bloom — there’s always something to see and do.

Her mini farm is home to:
  • 2 dwarf Nigerian dairy goats named Buttercup and Magnolia
  • 9 chickens
  • 3 dogs named Teddy, Enja, and Scout

One of her favorite outdoor activities that helps her clear her mind is identifying new plants that have started growing on their own. Recently she found a new white oak tree, hostas, and some wildflowers she had never seen before.

“I love looking at the wildlife and seeing things I didn’t plant, then trying to figure out what they are,” says Jennifer. “It’s kind of like problem-solving to me, and I really enjoy it.”

As she strolls through her mini farm, Jennifer also uses the time to reflect on work projects. She finds her mind is better able to process learnings and insights during this time, and afterward, she goes back to work refreshed and filled with ideas.

Living on a Farm Makes Healthy Eating Easy
When it comes to healthy eating, having a vast garden in her backyard helps keep fresh foods on the table. Jennifer and her family plant and maintain a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including:
  • Blueberries and strawberries
  • Potatoes
  • Onions, shallots, and garlic
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce and sorrel
  • Carrots

Jennifer’s kids help care for the garden, and she uses the time together as an opportunity to teach them about the plants. They enjoy learning the science behind it and seeing the plants sprout up from seeds to fully-grown foods.

f5d43c097eaa86b9213dccbb65c9dc69-huge-jmFamily Priorities for Healthy Living
Jennifer not only loves being outside on her property, but she also loves spending time in nature during vacations. When she travels with her family, they often go to scenic locations like national parks where they can hike, swim, bike, or do other outdoor activities. She’s visited Yellowstone National Park 4 times, as well as Mount Rushmore, Glacier National Park, Zion National Park, and others.

“Every year, we try to take road trips and see things,” says Jennifer. “I want to see people in different parts of the world, experience unique things, and see how the rest of the world is.”

No matter where they are, the family makes sleep hygiene a priority, too. All technology like phones and TVs are turned off by 7 p.m. each night so everyone can wind down and get ready for bed.

“Over the past few years, I’ve done a better job of listening, pausing, and healing,” says Jennifer. “Nurses tend to work through things and not listen to our bodies. But now I pause and listen.”

Whether she’s pausing in her garden, at a national park, or as she sets down her phone before bed, Jennifer now recognizes the person she sees in the mirror. And it’s all worth it.

Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is the current president of the American Nurses Association.

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Blog #healthynurse Spotlight 07/05/2023 10:29am CDT

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#healthynurse Spotlight
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The #healthynurse Spotlight is a shout out to nurses who are making changes in their lives to improve their health and wellness. You can too! Read their stories for inspiration here.