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Is there a nurse in the 'House'?

Is there a nurse in the 'House'?
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During this presidential election year, several nurses have joined the race for public office, vowing to use their expertise to improve the nation’s health. Incumbent Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) is working to retain her seat as the youngest Black woman ever elected to the United States Congress. She serves along with long term Rep. Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who is also running for reelection. They are the only two nurses currently serving in the United States House of Representatives. More nurses across the country hold seats in the House of Representatives or the Senate in their respective states. 

During this year’s election, many nurses seek elected positions on the local, state, and federal levels. In Georgia, 13 nurses are running for political office simultaneously. Gone are the days when the public will only see nurses as clinicians wearing uniforms and scrubs delivering care at the bedside. In addition to providing high-quality patient-centered care, today's nurses serve in numerous capacities, including teaching in the academic setting, preparing the next generation of nurses, or serving in very influential leadership positions, including public officials, to name a few.

Regardless of position or place of employment, nurses are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to advocating for the public’s health. In addition to being the most trusted profession for 18 consecutive years, nurses are very knowledgeable about the health care landscape and possess a strong connection to patients and health care consumers. These attributes make them well suited to advocate on behalf of constituents.   

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As an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellowship Program, I know the value of having nurses at key decision-making tables informing the policy discourse. In 2010, as a Health Policy Fellow assigned to work in the Office of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, I witnessed firsthand the challenges and benefits of enacting the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Having dedicated my career to eliminating health disparities, I was encouraged to see some progress towards guaranteeing access to health care for those most in need. 

However, many years later, after completing the fellowship, I am concerned about continuing efforts to dismantle the ACA, given the growing number of individuals who remain uninsured or underinsured. The COVID -19 pandemic has reminded us again that as a nation, we must do more to ensure health care coverage for our most vulnerable, including minorities, the elderly, and other high-risk populations.

The Kaiser Family Foundation affirms that the Affordable Care Act's loss would only widen existing health disparities. The ongoing disparities in health care and health outcomes have strengthened my commitment to becoming a stronger advocate supporting those working on behalf of patients and health care consumers. This includes supporting nurses who are running for office.

I am proud to see nurses stepping forward to use their health care expertise to improve the nation’s health. They are more than qualified to use their voices to help improve access to health care for those lacking adequate health care coverage, protect provisions for individuals with preexisting conditions, and amplify the need for equitable health care legislation. Some nurses across the country are already poised to retain their seats or occupy a newly elected position in their respective state legislature. Other nurses will be appointed to serve in influential positions at the local, state, or federal level.

Regardless of the office, nurses will bring a unique and credible perspective to the policy table. Their experiences as nurses and commitment to helping constituents and health care consumers will serve them well as they work to improve health outcomes for all. When the election results roll in, I look forward to hearing a resounding, “yes” to the question “Is there a nurse in the house? “Only this time, I am hopeful that there will be more nurses in the House, the Senate, and other elected positions charting the path for health care transformation.

Janice Phillips, Ph.D. is the director of nursing research and health equity at the Rush University Medical Center and an associate professor at Rush University College of Nursing in Chicago.