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Meet Rep. Lauren Underwood, Registered Nurse and the Youngest Black Woman in Congress

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Being a registered nurse can put you on a path towards greatness; just ask Rep. Lauren Underwood from Illinois’ 14th Congressional district. She’s one of the only registered nurses to serve in the House of Representatives and the youngest black woman in Congress.

Her district is considered a Toss-Up district going into next year’s Midterm elections, and she’s raising all the money she can to keep her seat so she can continue fighting for her constituents and advocating for patients across the country. It’s a powerful story you won’t want to miss.

From RN to Representative

Underwood knows her way around the healthcare industry. In fact, it’s become a central part of her political identity in Congress. In high school, she decided to pursue a career in public health. She later worked as a registered nurse at John Hopkins University, from which she has two master’s degrees.

Her transition into politics didn’t come easily. She remembers studying for her exams when she got the chance to tour the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, GA, which only fueled her desire to improve the nation’s healthcare services.

Impressed with her credentials, President Obama eventually appointed her to be a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which gave Underwood the chance to work on the implementation of the ACA to make sure everyone can find the coverage they need.

She says she first felt the urge to run for office after the congressional representative for her district voted against the Affordable Care Act, which would have made it harder for individuals with preexisting health conditions to find health coverage.

For Underwood, the ACA was personal. She knows what it’s like to live with a preexisting condition firsthand.

“When I was in elementary school, I was diagnosed with a heart condition and had to see my cardiologist quarterly,” said Underwood. “I was really inspired by the care that I got from those folks, so that set me on a path toward healthcare.”

That’s why she’s become a fierce defender of the ACA and increasing access to health coverage.

“It’s devastating for nurses and our patients,” Underwood cautioned. “The evidence is so clear that when people lose healthcare coverage, people die. Everybody that comes our way has a pre-existing condition and we need to ensure that our patients keep their coverage.”

After President Trump got elected in 2016 and tried (and failed) to repeal the ACA, Underwood set her sights on Congress. She was eventually elected in 2018, becoming the first woman of color to represent her district of over 720,000 people.

“I learned to be a black woman in this community,” Underwood said of her first campaign. “This is my home, and the idea that I might not be a good fit is an idea I never gave a lot of consideration to.”

Fighting for Her Political Survival

Three years later, Underwood’s time in Washington is far from assured. The president’s party tends to suffer huge losses during the first Midterm elections of their presidency, and Underwood’s Congressional seat could be on the chopping block.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the UVA Center for Politics, one of the most respected election analysis publications in the country, recently put Underwood’s district in the Toss-Up column after she won by only 1.4% during last November’s election.

She’s asking her supporters to keep her in office by raising as much money as possible. Tap the fundraiser to donate to her historic campaign.

Regardless of whether she wins or loses next year, Underwood is inspiring healthcare providers across the country.

She has some advice for younger nurses: “When you feel you need an additional challenge or there’s no energy attached to your work anymore, change your practice area or specialty, go back to school and get a different certification or go into teaching,” she said.

“I love nursing because I think you can do anything you want in our profession. We can have several different careers,” Underwood added.

Working as an RN gives you the experience you need to do just about anything, including running for Congress. Underwood recently commented on how nurses can set themselves up for positions of leadership, especially after working through the pandemic.

“I don’t think we have an option not to lead,” she said. “We can’t opt out. We can’t look away. We can’t unsee what we’ve seen, not only throughout our careers, but over the past year during the pandemic. And quite frankly, we are prepared. We have everything that we need in terms of tools, background, experiences, perspective in order to be transformational leaders throughout our communities.”

We wish Underwood all the best as she continues to stand up for patients and nurses everywhere. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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