As one of three nurses in Congress, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) has been a champion for nursing, introducing and cosponsoring bills to advance the nursing profession. One example is a House resolution recognizing National Nurses Week from May 6 to 12, which is introduced every year. The resolution recognizes the significant contributions of nurses to the healthcare system, supports the goals and ideals of National Nurses Week (as founded by ANA), and encourages the American people to observe National Nurses Week with recognition, ceremonies, activities, and programs to demonstrate the importance of nurses to the everyday lives of patients. America’s nurses appreciate Rep. Johnson’s support of this resolution, as well as other legislation she has authored on behalf of nurses. ANA recently asked Rep. Johnson about her experience as a nurse in Congress.
Q: Do you believe your colleagues in Congress turn to you on matters relating to health care because of your experience as a nurse?
A: Yes, I do believe that my colleagues see my nursing background as an asset when discussing healthcare matters, especially since there are currently so few nurses in Congress. Members of Congress cover so many policy areas that it’s common to seek out the thoughts of those who have a specialized background. I have a unique vantage point from having been intricately involved in our healthcare system. As a nonpracticing RN, I have first-hand knowledge of what is important to healthcare professionals and what issues most affect patient care. My nursing background has definitely given me the chance to advocate effectively for issues affecting the nursing field and health care.
Q: This is your ninth term in Congress, and before coming to Washington you served in the Texas House of Representatives. Did you always know you wanted to be involved in public service?
A: No, I didn’t always have aspirations of working in public service, but I did answer the call to serve when it was before me. I was approached by various people in the Dallas community to seek office and I made the decision at the last minute to run for state representative. I ran a grassroots campaign and still rely on the same supporters today. I am happy that my decision to run for office has allowed me to become a strong advocate for workers, women, children, and families. As a public servant, I am truly honored to represent those in my district and have a reputation for effective constituent casework.
Q: What made you decide to introduce House Resolution 1158, which recognizes Certified Nurses Day?
A: I think it’s important that we recognize the contribution of certified nurses to the professionalism of the nursing field, which results in a better-trained workforce and better patient outcomes. With healthcare reform, we will see many more people in the healthcare system and nurses will be on the frontline. We need to encourage nurses to pursue continuing education and show increased competency in their field. Lack of recognition has deterred nurses from seeking certification, and I hope this resolution will also encourage employers to acknowledge the contributions of certified nurses appropriately.
Q: Some nurses believe that reaching out to their elected officials isn’t important. What advice would you give them about the impact of voicing their opinion and sharing their own experience on an issue?
A: Reaching out to elected officials is extremely important. We absolutely rely on the feedback from our constituents when making decisions on legislation and policy. It’s especially important that those working in the nursing field contact legislators on issues directly related to their work, whether the issue is healthcare reform or regulations facing the industry. Decisions legislators make will affect you in your everyday life, so it’s vital that you provide your input. Writing letters, encouraging representatives to sponsor legislation, and meeting with members and staff are very real parts of the public policy process. My office is always open to constituents, and I am sure every member of Congress feels the same as well.
Rachel Conant is an associate director in ANA’s Department of Government Affairs.