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Is there a nurse in the House? Or the Senate?

By: Lisa Summers, DrPH, MSN, RN, and Kimberly Gordon, DNP, CRNA

Nurses can help heal the political divide.

Imagine you’re on a break with work colleagues and the conversation turns to a policy topic you care about. Maybe it’s safe staffing, a scope-of-practice issue, or a vaccine mandate. One nurse says, “I’m not happy with the approach the mayor is taking. It’s as if they have no understanding of healthcare. This would look different if a nurse served on the city council. I’d like to run for office so I could have a say in how these decisions are made.”

How would you respond? Would you encourage your colleague and offer to help? Or would you hesitate and wonder, “Is this a role for nursing?”

Nurses are sorely underrepresented in elected office—from local school boards to the halls of the U.S. Congress. Currently, only three nurses serve in the House of Representatives and a nurse has never served in the Senate. The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks state legislators’ occupations. Because so few nurses serve in state legislatures, they don’t even merit an occupational category; they’re included among “other.”

Nurses have what it takes to serve the public beyond our clinical and leadership roles. They excel at communicating, listening, and consensus building. Think about what you do every day. Chances are it involves teambuilding, negotiating, managing competing priorities, identifying and solving complicated problems with incomplete information, and implementing specialized skills and scientific knowledge. Nurses are eminently qualified for elected office.

Nurses understand healthcare, but our expertise doesn’t end there. We’re acutely aware of social determinants of health and how public policies—including housing, food access, and healthcare accessibility—impact patients. Whatever the subject, we see our communities through the eyes of patients. We have the qualifications, skills, and experience to run for elected office, win, and govern.

Consider whether your leadership abilities should extend to elected office. Most current elected officials come from three professions—law, business, or politics—and they didn’t learn how to serve during their education. Launching a campaign for Congress may seem overwhelming, but many local, county, and state offices don’t require huge sums of money and extensive teams of consultants.

If you don’t want to run but think increasing nurse representation is valuable, consider taking one (or more) of these steps to help:

  • Register to vote and vote in every election.
  • Be an educated voter. State nursing associations can help.
  • If you think one of your coworkers would make a great public servant, encourage them to run. Nursing is still a majority female profession and, on average, women need to be asked seven times to run for office before they consider it. Be a colleague’s first, fifth—or seventh—ask.
  • When a nurse runs, help them win. Become a campaign volunteer, donate money, offer to cover their shift so they can attend a campaign event, invite their kids to your carpool. You don’t have to be politically active to help.

Nurses bring a unique perspective to politics along with skills and expertise that can begin to heal what divides us. Nurses and midwives will make better public policy because they see health in all policy.

Lisa Summers and Kimberly Gordon are the cofounders of Healing Politics (healing-politics.org), an educational, non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)3 organization on a mission to inspire, motivate, recruit, and train nurses and midwives to run for elected office up and down the ballot while building a culture of civic engagement within the professions.

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