David Keepnews has a long track record and distinguished career as a nurse, labor proponent, professor, policy specialist and advocate for our practice. He joins WSNA at a critical time for our members, our union and our profession. David is already bringing his experience, skills and passion to the job.
His academic and professional accomplishments speak for themselves, but we wanted you to get to know David as a person and as a fellow nurse. We asked him some questions about his decision to join the nursing profession and how his views shape his life and our work.
After I finished high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started college but didn’t really feel committed to any particular way forward.
I was interested in health care and knew I wanted to find a field focused on helping people. I started working as a unit clerk at a hospital in San Francisco. I was in a float position, so I got to see different units and different specialties: MedSurg, Peds, ICU and a lot of time in the NICU. I was in awe of the nurses. These were strong and confident people — primarily women — who prioritized taking care of patients and who weren’t afraid of standing up and advocating for patients. The nurses that I worked with showed real independence. They thought critically. They were efficient but very human, and they made it such an appealing field. That’s when I decided to go to nursing school.
At 23, I was considered an older student, which is funny to think of now. Now we have many people of all ages joining our profession, but back then I was one of the oldest students in the class and one of the only men.
I was fortunate to have many wonderful mentors; one in particular was my psych nursing professor, Frances Monet Carter, who passed away a few years ago. Even early in nursing school, I saw myself taking a different path in nursing than many of my classmates, and she really encouraged and supported me.
Each degree was a way for me to deepen my understanding of — and ability to improve — nursing practice. As I came to understand the nursing profession, I saw that public policy and advocacy play a huge role in our work and was drawn to that.
I always want to understand what motivates people to do what they do. If I have a disagreement or conflict, I don’t like to look at it and simply think, “Who’s right and who’s wrong?” I really want to understand why people do what they do. I find it often can help resolve even the most difficult situations.
Helping nurses understand the power we have to improve health care and the profession. There are issues that affect nursing practice that seem complex. I love the lightbulb moments when I can help nurses see what the challenges are and that they have that power to create change.
In my last job, where I was teaching at George Washington University, I said to myself, “I’ve had a lot of jobs; I’ve moved around; I’m not going to get another job or move again.” I was a WSNA member 20 years ago when I lived in Seattle, and I’ve worked with WSNA over the years and always thought WSNA does things right when it comes to serving the full range of professional interests — from advocacy around practice to representing nurses on the job. Having worked for another state nurses association and ANA (American Nurses Association) for many years, those were the most fulfilling years of my professional life. So, the opportunity to work with WSNA and to advance its mission was too exciting an opportunity to pass up.
Believe in yourself.
For those just beginning: When things are new and uncertain, it can be frightening. But remember what drew you to the profession and lean on your colleagues and the wisdom and strength that’s there.
For experienced nurses: Remember what drew you to the profession and remember how much you’ve contributed already. When you have those days when you’re just fed up, remember the years of caring and professionalism you’ve already given and think of your new colleagues and how much you have to offer them.
I also believe that working together with other nurses to advance and advocate for the profession can be a real source of strength and energy. Human solidarity helps to counteract the sense of frustration and powerlessness that many nurses feel, especially in today’s environment.
I love music. My father was a jazz record producer, and there was always a wide variety of music playing in our house. I don’t play an instrument — I just sing poorly — but music always sustains and helps strengthen me.
Another of the little things that I enjoy is watching “Jeopardy!” with my husband. We’re addicted. We also enjoy spending time with our dog, Paloma. I’ve been known to talk all about her at great length, whether people really want to hear it or not.
New York, New York
Most people don’t know that I love singing, even though I’m not very good at it.
Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done,” and that’s always resonated with me.