HER: Student Michael Elizabeth Kennedy

Health Equity Reimagined

Student Engagement

Community Commitment Drives Duke Student to Study Psychiatric Care

Michael Elizabeth Kennedy
Michael Elizabeth Kennedy

Michael Elizabeth Kennedy’s drive to become a psychiatric and mental health nurse came out of dedication to her community and necessity. In the small port town of Morehead City on the coast of North Carolina, where Kennedy lives, prescription drug abuse, overdose emergency department visits and substance- related deaths are common – so common that the county consistently ranks in the top five counties in the state for those problems, Kennedy says.

“My community is grossly underserved regarding psychiatric and mental health care,” she said. “The physical and mental health of my rural community has been a personal passion while embracing the global community.”

Kennedy is studying to be a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner at the Duke University School of Nursing.

"I have been a nurse for 20 years and achieved education in increments. As an APRN with over a decade of acute care experience, I see the gap in care and have advocated unsuccessfully for change. I am willing to become the change needed to do the right thing for my community and bridge the increasingly complex healthcare culture.”

Michael Elizabeth Kennedy

MSN - Psychiatric Mental Health Student

Kennedy initially earned an associate degree in nursing from Lenoir Community College and worked at the bedside as a registered nurse for eight years. During that time, she obtained a BSN from Barton College and an MSN through East Carolina University (ECU).

While practicing with a hospitalist group in rural North Carolina, she earned a post-master’s in nursing leadership through ECU and a post-masters in acute care from Duke, which allow her to hold a dual certification as an adult health nurse practitioner and an adult-geriatric acute care nurse practitioner.

In 2016, she earned a doctorate in nursing practice through ECU and then completed a post-master’s in nursing education. She has practiced inpatient care as a nurse practitioner for 12 years and is currently on staff at Carteret Health Care and holds numerous committee appointments.

In 2018, she was appointed assistant professor for the department of internal medicine at Campbell University. She was named CHC’s 2021 Provider of the Year and in 2022 was named one of the Great 100 Nurses.

“My current critical care environment is overwhelmed with psychiatric diagnoses. Overdoses, withdrawal, delirium, suicide attempts, and neurological ambiguities are daily part of practice that I navigate without inpatient psychiatric or neurology services,” Kennedy said. “As a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, I would be armed with the vital tools needed to pursue a career and leadership goal of creating evidence-based treatment models with the intent of providing greater access to acute mental health care for an underserved rural population.”

Michael Elizabeth Kennedy plans to use her education at the Duke University School of Nursing to continue helping her hometown, which struggles with a lack of mental health and psychiatric care.

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