More than 30 years into a nursing career, Susan Kendig made a surprising move. She enrolled in law school.
“I say this jokingly, but the reason I went to law school was because health care was such a mess, and I decided I was going to fix it before I died,” says Kendig, a teaching professor at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she coordinates the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner program. She earned her law degree from the University of Missouri–Columbia in 2007.
“It’s the best thing I ever did,” she says.
For years she worked on policy initiatives and advising associations and task forces, so acquiring a legal degree made sense to her.
“By combining my two professions, it helped me to be able to read the law, understand the intent of the law and then help health care professionals understand what that means in their day-to-day practice,” she says. “Helping healthcare providers and policymakers understand how policy affects peoples’ lives is the heart of what I do.”
For three-and-a-half years Kendig commuted daily to Columbia for classes at the MU Law School. The travel was tough, as she still taught at UMSL, but UMSL’s College of Nursing offered flexibility that eased the situation.
“I could not have done it if I worked in most other places. They were flexible and that’s a really important point,” she says.
She praises the college and its environment that values lifelong learning. Kendig says that environment is why she’s still at UMSL seven years after finishing law school.
“I do policy work. I do some legal work as part of my clinical practice, but I just felt that after the university supported me in attaining my educational goal, I needed to give back to the university. And they have created a space where I can do that and use the skills that I developed in law school,” she says.
Kendig has always focused her work on women and infants. The crack epidemic that took hold of this country in the mid-1980s and early 1990s got her interested in working with women who were pregnant and chemically dependent. The subject motivated her to earn her master’s degree in nursing.
“I was really interested in making sure women knew they were important and that their health was important as well, because if we improve women’s health, we actually improve the health of families and of our communities,” she says.
Kendig says being a lawyer has made her a better teacher. She often gets calls from policy colleagues in Jefferson City, Mo., with questions about a bill, seeking her nursing expertise. She has even used it as a lesson by putting the exchange on speakerphone so her class could hear policy in action.
“There is nothing special about me. I’m not smarter than any of my students,” she says. “When my students graduate I hope that they’ll also take an active interest in policy issues.”
For her work to improve women’s health, Kendig was named a 2013 March of Dimes Nurse of the Year in Women’s Health.
This story was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of UMSL Magazine.