Healthcare has been top-of-mind during this year’s election cycle. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, it’s among the top issues for all voters in the 2020 election, particularly among Democrats and those who haven’t made up their minds about who to vote for this November. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, many people lack access to essential healthcare services. At least 12 million people have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. Strong, science-based public messaging is key to overcoming the crisis at hand.
That may be why we’re seeing so many healthcare providers running for public office all over the country, on the right and left. Some are advocating for stronger protections for healthcare workers, increasing access to care, and moving further towards Medicare for All, while others are motivated to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Nurses In the “House”
There are currently two nurses serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. As the youngest black woman ever elected to Congress, incumbent Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) is running for re-election on the west side of Chicago after winning her seat in 2018. She serves on the House Committee on Education and Labor, the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, and the House Committee on Homeland Security.
At just 34, she’s been fighting for veterans’ access to mental healthcare to reduce the suicide rate of that group. She’s also been outspoken about the psychological and emotional challenges children are facing as they return to school amid the pandemic.
There’s also Rep. Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) who is running for re-election in the Dallas area. As the first nurse elected to Congress, she took office back in 1992, now known as the “Year of the Woman,” when many women were elected to the House and Senate for the first time. She is also the first African American and the first female Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. She pivoted to a career in politics after serving as the Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the V.A. Hospital in Dallas.
There are many first-time political candidates running as well, including Rich McCormick (R), who’s running for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, north-northeast of Atlanta. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a pilot and in the Navy as the department head for emergency medicine in Afghanistan. According to his 2020 campaign, McCormick is listed as an emergency medicine physician.
“Leadership on ‘both sides’ needs to focus more on patient-centered solutions, which is why Congress needs more medical professionals,” McCormick said recently in an interview. He doesn’t support the ACA, but, like many members of the GOP, he hasn’t offered a replacement. He has stated that he wants to work with a bipartisan coalition of doctors to focus on “people, not politics.”
There’s also Celeste Williams (D), a registered nurse who is running to unseat Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) in the state’s third Congressional District, a rural area on the Missouri-Oklahoma state line. She says the pandemic has emphasized the need for science-based approaches to policy.
“You have to follow the science, and that’s what should lead your policy,” Williams said. “That also gives people a little more comfort as well, relying on medical experts who are not partisan.”
Let’s not forget about Ronny Jackson (R), President Trump’s former White House physician, who’s running for election in Texas’ 13th District, right on the edge of the Oklahoma state line. It’s known as a Republican stronghold, so Jackson is likely on his way to Congress this January.
Overall, there are 20 candidates with medical experience running for House seats this year. The House of Representatives currently has 13 physicians, two nurses, and one physician assistant, according to the Congressional Research Service.
There are also many nurses and providers running at the state and local levels. In Georgia, there were 13 nurses running for office simultaneously earlier this year during the state’s primary.
Why Nurses and Doctors? Why Now?
Numerous healthcare providers are hanging up their scrubs in exchange for a run for public office. For many, the transition may seem like a natural choice. Nurses consistently rank as the country’s most trusted professionals. Trust is key when it comes to politics. Nurses also have experience talking directly to patients and their family members about sensitive issues, which gives them the interpersonal skills to generate support in their respective communities.
Shaughnessy Naughton, the founder and president of 314 Action, a group that aims to elect more scientists to Congress, says, “The pandemic has really brought into stark relief the acute danger of ignoring science and expertise when Americans can see it in real time. Medical professionals have a unique authority to speak to it, but we are seeing support across all of our campaigns.”
The group rose to prominence during the 2018 midterms. That year, they helped elect eight scientists to the U.S. House of Representatives, one to the U.S. Senate, and more than 30 others to state legislatures across the country. Right now, they’re backing Mark Kelly (D), a former astronaut who’s running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, chemist Nancy Goroff (D) in New York’s First Congressional District, and Cameron Webb (D), a physician running in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District.
Doctors in Politics is another group that’s looking to get more doctors interested in politics. Hisam Gouel, the founder of the group, says, “The pandemic has illustrated our need to organize for political power in a meaningful way. Doctors are really frustrated in this critical moment.”
They’re planning a “Day of Action” on Saturday, October 24th, when volunteers will spend the day calling likely voters, asking them to support physician candidates all over the country, including Hiral Tipirneni (D), a former emergency room physician challenging Rep. David Schweikert (R) in Arizona’s 6th District.
Tipirneni says she’s been frustrated with the country’s lack of leadership during the pandemic. She says voters should “understand that having more physicians and scientists at the table would be a very good thing, not just for the time of a pandemic but for policy in general.”
As healthcare continues to dominate the national political conversation, we will likely see more nurses and doctors running for public office in the future. If you’re interested in applying your medical experience to the world of politics, consider following in these providers’ footsteps.
And don’t forget to vote on November 3rd.