2022 KE Future Nurse Leader Recipient, Lana Keusch
Rosie: Hi Lana. Thank you so much for joining us at NSRH. We’re really excited to celebrate your KE (Karen Edlund) Future Leader Award, and we’re really excited to talk to you and learn a little bit more about your career pathway so far and your chapter organizing work.
Lana: Awesome, well thanks so much for having me here.
R: Tell us about your pathway to nursing, and more specifically your interest in sexual and reproductive healthcare and advocacy?
L: Nursing is a second, or even maybe a third, career for me essentially. I started my career in public health. I got my MPH a little under ten years ago now, and I’ve been working in public health ever since, and even before that really. My advocacy and my work in that world kind of always revolved around sexual and reproductive health. In college I started out as a peer sexual health educator with a really awesome group called “Sex Out Loud” and that’s really what sparked my interest and my ability to move forward in the world of sexual and reproductive health. I bounced around in public health for a number of years. The great thing about SRH is that it encompasses and it includes all aspects of healthcare. Wherever you land, wherever you end up, there’s going to be some aspect of SRH that comes into play with your work. So I really loved that aspect of it, that uniting factor. Just how much I've been able to learn and grow as I’ve come to nursing as my ultimate goal. I was actually working for the Boston STD clinic. I was volunteering there at first while I was doing my grad school, and that led to a part-time paid position as a student, and it was affiliated with a number of other clinics that were in the same area: the STD clinic, the refugee clinic, infectious disease, travel health, and all of those things. Working in that area of the hospital at Boston Medical Center was just incredible. I was really inspired by my coworkers who were majority counselors and nurses. We had RNs and NPs that were affiliated with our clinic Working with them on a daily basis was just amazing. To see the relationships they established with our patients, with our clients. How much work and energy they put into making sure that people had access to the services that we were offering. Making sure that education was handed out, and that people were just aware of all their options going forward whatever that might be, whatever they might need, and connecting them with those resources. That drew me to nursing, but it took me a few more years to get up the courage to actually go to nursing school.
R: That’s a really interesting pathway. I think you’re completely right in saying that sexual and reproductive health intersects with so many different fields, which makes it really exciting work. That’s great to hear your perspective on that.
Along those lines, within SRH what issues are most important to you? What opportunities have you had to engage with these topics in your nursing, or public health career so far?
L: The start of my work in SRH focused a lot on reproductive justice, and really unlearning a lot of things that I had been taught growing up in the environment that I grew up in. Realizing that services were not available to everyone, access was a huge issue, and that we really needed to focus on that intersection of social justice and reproductive health. That was really the starting point for me, and that has remained really critical for me in all the work I’ve done since. I’d say when it comes to individual topics, obviously, abortion is a huge issue. We actually had one of our members [chapter participants] write this amazing op-ed talking about how “abortion is not a dirty word.” I think we really need to encourage people to be speaking out loud about it. Just being really open and able to discuss it freely. So that’s a really major part of my work, for sure. I’m looking forward to doing my preceptorship at Planned Parenthood very soon. On top of that, there’s a lot of other issues. There’s fertility and particularly queer spaces within fertility. I think that’s a really important issue, and something I’m hoping to learn more about. On that same note, gender-affirming care within nursing, I think, is really critical. I love to see that that’s kind of a subset that is growing. I recently saw, there’s a graduate program that is actually focused entirely on gender-affirming care, which I think is amazing. So I hope that continues to grow. And then, I’m also really interested in forensics and forensic nursing, which I think is a relatively new and slightly unknown field within [SRH] nursing, but it overlaps in so many ways. So it’s not just SANE nurses, although SANE nurses are amazing and incredible, and I hope to become one someday. But there’s a lot of work that can be done within forensics that incorporates all of those important factors such as trauma-informed care, person-centered care, and again gender-affirming care. So, all of those things, and I’m sure more… I couldn’t list them all!
R: One of my favorite parts of my job working with students is seeing all of the different ways people are thinking about SRH and the directions they’re taking it. I think you’re a great example of that in thinking really broadly about SRH, but still really thinking about how to bring that Reproductive Justice framework to whatever you do.
In terms of your involvement with NSRH, how did you find out about NSRH? What inspired you to start a chapter and get involved?
L: I actually came to NSRH through doing research about abortion care. A few months ago I was just searching around within google to figure out what would my potential abilities to provide abortion care as an RN be based on what state I was in, or what arena I was in… and that led me down this pathway to finding the NSRH website. I just came across it and I was searching through all of the different tabs, all the different opportunities and options, and then I saw of course that there was this free student membership. So I was like “Yes! Let’s instantly sign up for this!” Because what a great resource and how accessible and wonderful that is. So that’s how I came to find the website, and the more I looked through it the more I realized that there wasn’t an organization yet, at Duke Nursing at least, that focused specifically on sexual and reproductive healthcare. So we have a number of awesome organizations that already exist that focus on a lot of things that fall within SRH, but the broader scope I felt might be a little lacking in terms of student organization and opportunities outside of class. So, I thought to myself, well you know maybe this could be an option. Just to see if this was a path forward within the Duke Nursing program, and I started to explore it. And you guys just have such amazing resources for chapters looking to get started. So it just went so fast, and there was incredible support from the Duke administration and then of course incredible support from the students. People were so interested. So we just had a massive sign-up- people were so excited to get started with this.
R: Yeah your turnout at Duke has been amazing to see, and I’m sure that is in large part due to the team you’ve built and your leadership. Even just listening to you talk about these issues it's clear that you can bring people together in that way, so that's been wonderful to see that get established at Duke.
So, I’m curious to hear, like you mentioned you started this chapter this year, it wasn’t really existing at Duke before. So I’m interested to hear about what your experience was like in both leading and establishing this chapter? If you were to give advice to students who were interested in organizing, but not sure where to begin, what might you say to them?
L: I think the key when it comes to any kind of leadership or organizing that I’ve always found, is communicating with existing organizations and not reinventing the wheel. Utilizing resources that are already available. Reaching out for help when needed. So the way I got this started, is because I literally had no idea where to start on the Duke side of things. It’s not like there’s a website that says very clearly “here’s how you start an organization.” So, just reaching out to fellow classmates. I knew a classmate in a cohort above me who had started her own organization very recently. I didn’t know her super well, but I sent her an email that just said, “Hey I’ve been thinking about starting this chapter. How did you do this?” And she was able to give me some great advice and resources about what might be involved in that, and the time frame that would need to happen in. And then it kind of snowballed from there. Again, you guys provided really excellent resources for helping me to keep us organized as we got things started. So I really just recruited from my friend group essentially for the e-board to start out with, because it’s so easy to work with people who you already work with on a regular basis. I’ve found a really wonderful group of students within my cohort who are very excited about sexual and reproductive health, and want to go into something related to maternity or SRH in a broader sense. But we really also wanted to bring in students from not only just outside our cohort but not just within the ABSN program. Duke has a really robust graduate study body, but we don’t get to interact very much, One of the things I wanted from a student org was to interact and network and get to know more people who were at school with me in the same time frame, but maybe I’ll never see them unless it was for this organization. So I reached out and put it out there. Who among the grad students would be interested in a leadership position with this new org? We happened to get two wonderful people who joined us. We have a PhD student and an MSN women’s health nurse practitioner student who joined up. The great thing about having them on board as well is that they’ll be able to continue this work, after I and my other two four-semester officers graduate in just a couple of months. They’ll be around for much longer and the continuity will really be able to keep going. So, I love that!
I think one challenge our student leaders often face is how quickly nursing students turnover and how busy of a time it is. You all have a lot on your plate. I think it’s interesting to note that you’ve managed to recruit students pursuing different types of nursing degrees. I think that can be pretty difficult. Do you have additional advice on how to maybe close those gaps to have more of a robust chapter in that sense?
I mean I think the interest is always there. That’s the great thing about SRH. People hear that and they’re like, “Yes! I really want to do this.” I think the opportunity is always available, it’s just about creating that pathway. And creating the pathways is just about creating the pathway of least resistance. I reached out to faculty members who were the advisors for other programs. So obviously I know who our ABSN advisors are, but reaching out to faculty for the other programs and just saying, “Is there anyone who pops into your mind right away that might be interested in this?” And so, that made it less of a cold email. It was really targeting people who might have already been identified as potential leaders. And then, again just making it as easy as possible, and understanding people’s commitments. All of us have crazy schedules that don’t overlap very well. Being extremely flexible and understanding that life sometimes gets in the way. You know, one of our officers just had to take her qualifying exams for her PhD so she had to focus on that for two whole weeks and couldn’t do anything for her role for those two weeks. And so, we stepped up. The other officers filled in. And then she was able to come back and we’re able to continue on with that. So it’s about making sure that school comes first, family comes first, and we’ll support you in any way we can. It creates this family dynamic almost. I feel really close to all the people who’ve joined us so far.
R: If you were to highlight what you’re most proud of in your nursing career, as a student, or drawing from your time working in public health, what would you say you’re most proud of?
L: Well if I can pull from the last few years then I guess… because my nursing career is just getting started obviously. I would say I’m really proud of the networks I've built. Not only built but maintained. I love the fact that with this organization I’ve had the opportunity to grow it even farther than I might have been able to otherwise. You know, the pandemic created a really unique situation where it's very hard to meet people even within your own school program. We were virtual for the first two, of four semesters, then we broke into small groups So you may not interact with some of the people in your cohort at all! The networks I’ve built and maintained over the years, they span across the globe. And I’ve managed to maintain those families essentially. All of those people that I've picked up along the way who have changed my life for the better. People who I can call up and say “Hey, I’m going to be in Spain or Morocco in two months. I would love to meet up and see how you’re doing.” And it’s as if no time has passed.
R: To pivot slightly, what has been most challenging?
L: The fear of failure. Definitely. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist by any means but I certainly have large shoes to fill both within my family and then expectations that I have of myself. I think that’s why it took me so many years to finally get up the courage to take the prerequisite courses to go to nursing school. I wasn’t always the greatest student. I always loved learning, but being a student, that’s a totally different aspect of things. Having hit some challenges when I was younger, it was definitely scary to go back and face that again, and potentially face failure again. But actually, having had the time to branch out and do other things in the ten years between my last degree and this one… and that included traveling the world, and being a bartender, and working in retail, and I was an au pair for a hot second… I got to do all these different things and they’ve shaped me. After going through all of that, coming back to it knowing that this is my future. This is the path that I want. It made things so much easier to sit down and actually focus on the hard stuff.
R: I think that’s such a wonderful perspective to bring. Because I think especially when you’re trying to find your pathway, you worry about wasting time in between one step and the other, and I think it’s so valuable to realize that each experience will make that pathway more valuable once you do figure it out. So I think that’s great to highlight.
What does leadership in nursing mean to you?
L: Being a leader in any field, but in nursing in particular, is about helping to maintain momentum when we hit difficult paths as we have in the last two years. I’m new to nursing so I can't speak to what it’s like for somebody who has been working in nursing for years and then had to go through the pandemic. But I did get to watch from the outside and see how painful and challenging it was. So, I think a good nursing leader is someone who is able to maintain that motivation and make people feel not only needed in their role, but also cared for. Helping people to know that it’s okay to ask for help. Advocating for the needs and resources that are required to be able to do our jobs well. There’s a lot of work yet to be done but I see a huge amount of momentum within the nursing field right now. I’m excited for what the future is going to bring. I think there’s going to be a lot of changes for the better. Really just to inspire people to keep going forward and to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s such an essential task, and it’s so critical to the well-being of the world at large.
R: What’s next for you? What are your plans for after you graduate? What do you dream about?
L: I think I might be a never-ending student even though I wasn’t a good one for a very long time. I’m hoping to go back to school in a few years. I would really love to be a midwife. So, getting on that pathway means working on labor and delivery, maybe getting some cross-training in a bunch of other fields. I mentioned my interest in forensics so I want to move forward with that and advocate for better forensic education at the BSN level and awareness in general that forensics is a pathway that people could take. I think there’s a lot of need and there’s a huge gap in what’s being offered in terms of forensic nursing. And then… just more adventures! The great thing about nursing is that it’s flexible. It can take you just about anywhere. A long-term goal of mine is maybe getting to work for an organization like “Doctors Without Borders” or “Physicians for Human Rights” in the nursing role and really advocating for that nursing role. Making it more of a “Clinicians Without Borders” situation so that people think of nurses more readily.
We can’t wait to see what’s next for you Lana! Thank you for your organizing work at Duke University. Congratulations for your recent award as the KE Future Nurse Leader Award!