Q&A: Nancy Kaufman ’71 and Jessica Kendall ’14

By Caitlin Clark

NAO Award winners
2019 NAO Award winners Nancy Kaufman (left) and Jessica Kendall (right) with Dean Linda Scott (center)

The UW Nurses Alumni Organization (NAO) salutes alumni each year who have made significant contributions to the nursing profession. The most recent winners—Nancy Kaufman ’71, who received the Distinguished Achievement Award, and Jessica Kendall ’14, who received the Outstanding Badger Nursing Award—both give their time and talent to the School and are members of NAO and the Badger Nurse Network. Kaufman, who chairs the Board of Visitors and is the founding president of a Milwaukee-based health and social issues consulting firm, has practiced in acute health care settings, public health administration, a national health foundation and a large health care system. She also chairs the School of Medicine’s External Community Grant Review Committee and is a member of their Dissemination and Implementation Advisory Committee. Kendall is a nurse clinician at UW Hospital in the hematology, oncology, bone marrow transplant and palliative care unit, where she has served as a preceptor for nursing students. She also works with the UW Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center’s brain health equity initiative and serves as a resource nurse for diversity, inclusion and cultural congruence at UW Health.

How are you currently engaged with the School of Nursing? Why do you choose to stay engaged with the School?

KAUFMAN: In many ways. I chair the Board of Visitors that advises and assists Dean [Linda] Scott and promotes our top-ranked school. I also work with faculty when I see opportunities for grant funding. And I treasure time mentoring a few students each year. I am a big believer in paying back time, talent and treasure to the institutions that gave me the skills to launch and succeed in my public health career.

KENDALL: I’ve worked across the street at UW Hospital since I graduated, and I’ve loved coming back and just taking in the beauty of the building and feeling the energy that student nurses bring to the space. I knew Signe [Scott Cooper] since my waitressing days and I love that this is her legacy, but honestly I feel a part of the school as well! During planning and construction, a lot of effort was put into ensuring students had input into the design and were updated on progress. The class of 2014 was the last class to be a part of the process without actually being able to attend classes here, so I remember the excitement and now I just can’t get enough of being in the building itself. I recall how important to me it was seeing nurses of color present and engaged, so I’ve tried to take advantage of every opportunity to be a part of events and activities here. And now, in addition to working across the street, I also work in Cooper Hall since becoming a part of Andrea Gilmore-Bykovskyi’s brain health equity initiative a few months ago. Andrea was one of my heroes as I was going through nursing school, and her research is focused on quality of life for those with dementia and their caregivers. We’re doing some exciting work in research equity and centering communities most impacted by dementia.

What advice would you give to first-year nursing students?

Nancy Kaufman
Nancy Kaufman ’71, 2019 recipient, Distinguished Achievement Award

KAUFMAN: Take advantage of every minute. Explore new ideas and paths. Get to know faculty. Do not be afraid to challenge their thinking. Take risks. Stretch your skill set. Practice leadership and policy change.

KENDALL: Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can, while making sure you don’t sacrifice the things that are most important to you. Have things that are non-negotiable and create boundaries. Maintain your support system and cultural connections because during school, and even when you start your career, it’s going to be important for you to have a safe place to land when things are stressful. Like health, success in school can only happen in the context of your life. You don’t have to give up who you are in order to be successful or sacrifice things that are important to you in order to fit a cookie-cutter mold, or have a resumé just like the person next to you. It’s not about who does the most stuff. It’s about what you gained from this time and even from everything you’ve been through so far. Process those experiences and be able to articulate that growth.

What advice would you give to recent graduates?

KAUFMAN: You can be and do anything you wish with a nursing degree. Try different types of experiences. Take risks and unusual positions while you are young. You might end up as a White House staffer, an advisor to WHO (World Health Organization), working for a health foundation or on the path to become a CNO (Chief Nursing Officer). Admit what you don’t know, get help and problem solve through self-learning. Treat everyone you work with as equals no matter what their role.

KENDALL: First, seek out support to help you through the hardest times. There should be someone willing to help you through your new work environment. If not, you should seek out a mentor or peer outside of work to help you. Second, keep going back. It will get easier! I clearly remember feeling overwhelmed, awkward and incompetent. On days when you’re afraid to go back or dreading what’s waiting for you, remember that it’s a part of the process. There’s no way to skip that part, but you will get through it and be better because you did. So, if you do nothing else, just get some sleep and come back the next day. You accomplished a lot.

Who was your favorite instructor at the School of Nursing? Why?

KAUFMAN: An impossible question! I cannot choose. But Joyce Zerwekh and Jane Faye were treasured colleagues. Both were faculty a few years older than me. It was the late 60’s, early 70’s. Madison was a war zone. Drug use and sexual activity everywhere. I had ideas about how to prevent these activities from turning into tragedies. They supported (and so did Dean [Valencia] Prock) my leadership activities establishing the Blue Bus free clinic off campus, providing medical and drug abuse care at rock festivals (imagine nursing and medical students, residents and faculty at Woodstock, living in and caring for patients in tents!), volunteering at Madison’s Acid Rescue service, training Madison hospitals’ ER staffs in drug crisis intervention. This was new ground for all of us. We problem solved together. I am friends with them to this day. Jane stood up at my wedding. My husband and I shared an apartment one summer with Joyce and her husband.

Jessica Kendall
Jessica Kendall ’14, 2019 recipient, Outstanding Badger Nursing Award

KENDALL: Being in [Professor] Linda Oakley’s class was something that I needed and something that I still think about today. The subject matter was of interest to me, having struggled with depression through young adulthood and continuing to struggle at the time. But her impact was much more than that. The way she spoke about her work belied a deep respect for those she served. I was so inspired by the way she shifted the lens and the narrative to deflect stigma and shame and get down to the true work. I began to feel how powerful it is to respect those you serve, particularly considering that so many cope with being disrespected, unseen and unheard on a daily basis. I felt it deeply and I took it personally.

I can’t overstate the importance of black students having black instructors. It’s particularly urgent in health-related fields and especially in locations like Dane County where the disparities between black and white, are in some cases, the greatest in the nation. It was transformative for me to have someone in a position of authority validate the challenges and encourage deeper thinking. It helped me begin unpacking internalized racism and continue my journey of healing and whole life health. Interweaving this growth with the formative path I was already taking through nursing school was what led me to eventually find my niche, health equity.

The idea that our identities are separate from our role as a nurse does a disservice to all nurses of color and the people we serve in our work. My last experience before graduating, she spoke at the MASNA (Madison Area Student Nurses Association) conference to a small group and recommended we start precepting as soon as possible. Taking that advice led me to connect with some amazing students (now amazing nurses) and to challenge myself despite being relatively new in my nursing practice. I grew to see that I could help someone else become the nurse they want to be and began to seek out other leadership opportunities.

What was your favorite experience at the School of Nursing? Why?

KAUFMAN: Exploring the field of public/population health and learning how policy changes were more powerful in changing behavior than seeing people one person at a time. I realized then that policy work would dominate my career.

KENDALL: My favorite experience was witnessing Mel Freitag’s coming into the School of Nursing. There was no Diversity Officer when I started, and I recall when they announced that they would be seeking one and sought our opinions. As a first-year nursing student, the opportunity to provide input meant a lot to me. It was fun, and you could tell right away that Mel was passionate, knowledgeable and student-focused. To be able to see her come in and change the game has been encouraging as I’ve learned more and more about the urgency of health equity work. She’s constantly pushing for better, and for students to see that example is powerful in a field and a region where the disparities are staggering. She’s doing great work.

Why did you choose the UW–Madison School of Nursing?

KAUFMAN: My parents were both alums in science/medical fields. I grew up a Badger. Even though I interviewed and was accepted at universities around the country, the quality of a UW education for the cost convinced me that this was the place I wanted to be.

KENDALL: Those of us who live in Madison grow up knowing how lucky we are to have a world-class institution right here. But as a high school grad, I actually chose to leave Madison for an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. However, the depression I’d battled through high school followed me and eventually I dropped out and came home. By the time I began attending the UW School of Nursing, I was already an adult with a full-time job and a family and I had to think practically. It was the advising and academic support that made a huge difference for me.

When I skeptically approached my advisor Colleen Foley (now retired), she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She helped me navigate the challenges of getting back into school and start fresh. At the School of Nursing, I recall meeting my advisor Kim Tobin for the first time with my daughter in a stroller. She embraced me and helped me get everything in place to apply. I can’t say enough about the support I received from the Division of Continuing Studies and Adult Career and Special Student Services.

Additionally, throughout my journey, those who had the ability to set me on the right path were accessible and happy to take time out to speak with me. Meeting with researcher Earlise Ward set the tone in my first semester. It really meant a lot to see another Black woman who saw an issue and was doing work to create change. It made me consider that I too could be successful here at a time when I was feeling unsure. During my school career, people I respected such as Professor Emerita Karin Kirchhoff, then-Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Mary Ellen Murray and then-Dean Katharyn May all took the time to speak with me and give me some support and encouragement. As an adult who didn’t have the space in my life to take advantage of all of the activities and opportunities I wanted to, these moments meant a lot. Even when I was no longer a student, Dean Linda Scott took time out to meet with me and be an encouraging ear. These are the kinds of things that remind me what a great decision I made in choosing UW–Madison School of Nursing. Now I can try to be that for someone else.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a nurse?

KAUFMAN: Changing lives. Improving health.

KENDALL: Being confided in. It’s such an honor. Our responsibility is to say “Being able to be present and to be trusted mean so much, but what will I do with that?” As a nurse you can use all of what you know to create positive change for someone’s life, for the lives of their loved ones, for the community and on and on. Taking on that challenge has changed me. I’ve loved standing side-by-side with my patients, speaking up for them and their loved ones and being that reminder that they are the center of it all.

What’s the biggest challenge facing nurses today?

KAUFMAN: Our world is changing rapidly. Today’s nurses must practice basic skills, plus open themselves to health innovations and be ready to adapt in a moment’s instance. Nurses have a huge role within communities, leading efforts to achieve health equity. That means fighting determinants like racism, poverty and lack of access to quality educations. We are nurses 24-7, not just during our work shifts. The population trusts us. We are outward facing, natural networkers. Who better to lead?

KENDALL: The need to impact health disparities and social determinants of health is at emergency levels and the perspective of nursing is needed in all related spheres of influence. To create change via institutions, we should be represented at all levels and in positions to directly impact organizational decision making, especially within health institutions. As a whole, we need to speak up for ourselves the way we do for those we serve. There is no separating our identities and experiences from the work we do. Like discussing health, talking about nursing as though our identities have no impact is misguided and damaging. The nursing field and the people we serve suffer when nurses are excluded based on their identities, silenced, or pressured to assimilate. It’s through bringing our full selves to our nursing that we become most engaged, are best able to connect, advocate and recognize what others miss. Change to health disparities and can only be achieved with a diverse and widely activated nursing workforce.

What current or past TV show or character most accurately represents the nursing profession?

KAUFMAN: Chicago Med. You see nurses practicing to the top of their competencies. Their characters demonstrate real-life decision dilemmas, dealing with other members of the health care team and patients from every culture, social station and belief system.

KENDALL: I admit that in general I’ve avoided TV shows set in health care environments because I can’t stand the unrealistic interprofessional dynamics, the sexualizing of nurses and the minimization of the nurse’s role in the clinical environment. The difference with Nurse Jackie is that it demonstrates some of the barriers nurses face when advocating for their patients. Disclaimer: she repeatedly acts in opposition to the Nursing Code of Ethics! But, sex, drugs and silliness aside, it’s complex in the way it shows the professional responsibilities we bear, the impact we can have, and the moral depths we sometimes find ourselves wading in. I also appreciate some familiar nurse-to-nurse dynamics. Plus, it’s great to see a new nurse transform via that daunting year or two process of finding their voice. It is for entertainment, and definitely not for everyone, but I kept saying that somebody involved in its creation must have been a nurse! That’s a refreshing departure from much of what I’ve seen most highly publicized.