Nurses in Congress: Eddie Bernice Johnson

Nurses in Congress: Eddie Bernice Johnson

Today nurses practice in many arenas, from hospital bedsides to executive office suites to research laboratories to the halls of the United States Congress. Our Code of Ethics charges all of us to be involved in the political process to influence policies affecting the nursing profession and the health and well-being of all people. Our national professional organization, the American Nurses Association (ANA), encourages all nurses to be politically active to ensure safe and effective care for all patients, to elevate the profession, and to work to eliminate health disparities across our country.

Many early nursing leaders were suffragists and some even went to jail for advocating for women’s right to vote. As soon as the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, nurses were elected to local and state offices. Margaret Laird, a New Jersey nurse, was one of the first two women elected to the New Jersey Legislature in 1920. Between 1920 and 1992 nurses served in state legislatures in many states including North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Maine, and California. Iowa nurse JoAnn Zimmerman served as her state’s Lieutenant Governor from 1987 to 1991. While a nurse has yet to win a governorship, U.S. Senate seat, or Presidential election, eight nurses have served and/or are serving in the United States House of Representatives.

Texas nurse Eddie Bernice Johnson became the first nurse to win a national office in 1993 when she was elected to serve the 30th Congressional District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives. Twenty-six years later, Johnson continues to serve her district. In the intervening years she has been joined by seven other nurses from across the country. The group of Congressional nurses are African American and white, Democrat and Republican. They range in age from 32 to 84. As a group they represent all areas of the country and a cross section of race, age, and political affiliation. They have all brought their professional experiences, ethics, and commitment to caring with them into the political arena. To kick off Minority Nurse’s new Nurses in Congress series, I will share brief biographical sketches of each of the eight Congressional nurses starting with Congresswoman Johnson.

Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice Johnson, RN, BSN, MPA
Democratic Representative, 30th Congressional District of Texas, 1993-present

“Whatever discussion I am a part of, I never miss the opportunity to talk about the value of professional nurses, the value of investment in the profession and the value of attempting to look at the full potential of nurse’s abilities.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Nurse.com 

Throughout her life, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson has been a pioneer. As an African American female growing up in rural Texas during the time of legal segregation, her future may have appeared limited. However, as Mr. James Daniels noted in an interview with Johnson:

Mrs. Johnson, your accomplishments are impressive and even astonishing. Your firsts set you apart as a genuine trailblazer. You are the first woman ever elected to represent Dallas in the U.S. Congress. You are the very first chief psychiatric nurse of Dallas; first African American elected to the Texas House of Representatives from Dallas; first woman in Texas history to lead a major committee of the Texas House of Representatives; first African American appointed regional director of U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and the first female African American elected from the Dallas area as a Texas senator since Reconstruction. Your crowning accomplishment, however, is as the first nurse elected to the United States House of Representatives.
James Daniels, MinorityNurse.com

Johnson was born on December 3, 1935 to Lee Edward and Lillie Mae White Johnson in rural McLennan County, Texas to a family of limited means, but with a reverence for education. Johnson graduated from A.J. Moore High School in Waco, Texas in 1952. She wanted to become a nurse, but no accredited nursing school in Texas would accept African American students, so she enrolled in St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. In 1956, she graduated with her nursing diploma. Johnson continued her education earning her BSN from Texas Christian University in 1967, and in 1976, she was awarded her master’s degree in public administration from Southern Methodist University.

Johnson’s early nursing career was spent as a psychiatric/mental health nurse, psychotherapist, and nursing administrator for the Veteran’s Administration (VA). After ten years working for the VA, she achieved the rank of chief psychiatric nurse at the VA Hospital in Dallas. In 1977, Johnson was promoted and became a regional director of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

In 1972, while working at the VA, Johnson was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, making her the first African American woman to ever win an election in Dallas. Johnson waged a successful campaign for a seat in the Texas Senate in 1986, which she gave up in 1992 to run for the U.S. Congress. She won in a landslide and became the first nurse to serve in Congress. She has retained her seat for twenty-seven years.

Johnson is widely recognized as one of the most effective legislators in Congress. She is credited with authoring and co-authoring more than 120 bills that were passed by the House and Senate and signed into law. Over the decades Johnson has served on and chaired many committees and subcommittees in Congress, including as a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Chairwoman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Her subcommittee appointments include: the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which has jurisdiction over water conservation, pollution control, infrastructure, and hazardous waste cleanup as well as reauthorization of the Clean Water Act; the Subcommittee on Aviation; the Subcommittee on Railroad, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials; the Subcommittee of Research and Science Education; and the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. She has also been a Senior Democratic Deputy Whip and Chair of the Texas Democratic Delegation. As chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2001 to 2003, Johnson was praised for her ability to build coalitions with business interest group as well as labor unions and civil rights organizations.

Johnson introduced the National Nurse Act of 2011, which would elevate the importance of the Chief Nurse Officer of the United States Public Health Service and appoint a National Nurse to work with the Surgeon General to promote wellness and health literacy. She is also passionate about improving mental health and increasing federal funding for women pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math education.

What You Need to Know About Kate Middleton’s Nursing Now 2020 Campaign

What You Need to Know About Kate Middleton’s Nursing Now 2020 Campaign

Though well into her final trimester, Kate Middleton hasn’t let the impending birth of her third child stop her from attending royal engagements. At the very end of February 2018, the Duchess of Cambridge visited the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and St. Thomas’s Hospital in London. While there, Kate Middleton ran into the midwife who helped deliver her daughter Princess Charlotte, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, and the two shared a warm embrace.

But Middleton didn’t make the visit just to be reunited with her former midwife: She was there to become the second patron of the Royal College and to officially announce the Nursing Now 2020 campaign, which aims to raise the profile and status of nursing worldwide. As the name suggests, the three-year campaign is scheduled to last until 2020, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

“This campaign means a lot to me personally. My great-grandmother and grandmother were both volunteer nurses,” Middleton said in a speech she gave the campaign launch. “They would have learned first-hand from working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment and the Red Cross about the care and compassion that sometimes only nurses can provide.”

Find out everything you need to know about the Nursing Now 2020 campaign below.

Critical Roles Played by Nurses

Nurses are the heart of most health care teams, caring for patients from their first breaths to their last, helping with everything from checking blood pressure to offering diagnoses to administering shots and painkillers. “Nurses are always there. You care for us from the earliest years. You look after us in our happiest and saddest times. And for many, you look after us and our families at the end of our lives,” Middleton said. “Your dedication and professionalism are awe-inspiring.”

As the Duchess of Cambridge went on to point out in her speech, sometimes nurses may be the only health care provider readily accessible in certain areas of the world, which is why it’s extremely important that enough nurses be trained and placed in the coming years. “In some parts of the world, nurses are perhaps the only qualified health care professionals in their communities, so your work is all the more vital,” she said.

Coming Shortage of Nurses

According to Middleton’s speech, 9 million more nurses will need to be trained by 2030 to meet the rising demands worldwide, which works out to about 2,000 more nurses each day for the next 12 years. Nursing Now 2020 hopes to start filling that gap by increasing the profile of nursing roles and raising awareness about becoming a nurse. Indeed, the nursing shortage has been deemed a global crisis since 2002, but the recruiting and retention of nurses hasn’t been able to keep up with the health care demands of a growing population.

Five Campaign Goals

To help increase the number of nurses, and to support nurses already working in the field, the Nursing Now website lists five main goals that the initiative hopes to achieve by 2020. They are:

  1. Greater investment in improving education, professional development, standards, regulation and employment conditions for nurses.
  2. Increased and improved dissemination of effective and innovative practice in nursing.
  3. Greater influence for nurses and midwives on global and national health policy, as part of broader efforts to ensure health workforces are more involved in decision-making.
  4. More nurses in leadership positions and more opportunities for development at all levels.
  5. More evidence for policy and decision makers about: where nursing can have the greatest impact, what is stopping nurses from reaching their full potential and how to address these obstacles.

Basis for the Initiative

The goals and methods of the Nursing Now movement are based on a Triple Impact report, which was released by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health in October 2016. The report found that empowering nurses would not just improve health globally, but also build strong economies and promote gender equality (as the vast majority of nurses are still women). These three results combine to form the triple impact that nurses could potentially have. “The nursing contribution is unique because of its scale and the range of roles nurses play,” the report said.

Organizations Behind the Movement

Kate Middleton may be the most recognizable public face of the Nursing Now campaign, but two major health organizations are behind the campaigns: the International Council of Nurses and the World Health Organization. The International Council of Nurses represents millions of nurses worldwide, and seeks to represent them, advance the profession, and influence health policy. The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that seeks to address international health policy. The campaign is also supported by the Burdett Trust for Nursing, an independent charitable trust that helps fund nurse-led projects.

A Global Campaign

The Nursing Now Campaign Board includes both nurses and non-nurses from 16 different countries to represent a truly international group. Official launch events were held in London (where Middleton spoke) as well as Geneva. Various international nursing associations also hosted their own launch events, with locations including Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa, Taiwan, and Macao.

Ways to Get Involved

Beyond advocating for nurses and nursing, individuals who wish to support the campaign can sign the Nursing Now pledge and share the social media kit on various platforms. If there is no existing Nursing Now group in their area, nurses and non-nurses may band together to form their own group, though the process is lengthy to ensure participants are committed.

Whether you live in a developing country or an advanced health care economy, the coming nursing shortage will affect the entire globe, and is being felt in some places already. Through its five goals, Nursing Now hopes to help meet that need by recruiting new nurses and empowering existing ones through greater leadership opportunities and better policy decisions. To learn more about Nursing Now 2020, visit the campaign website.