When Lauren Underwood was sworn into the 116th U.S. Congress in January 2019, she made history as the first woman, person of color, and millennial to represent Illinois’ 14th Congressional District. She also vowed to preserve and expand access to healthcare, based on personal experience.
“When I was in elementary school, I was diagnosed with a heart condition and had to see my cardiologist quarterly,” said Underwood, who worked as a registered nurse after graduating from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University. “I was really inspired by the care that I got from those folks, so that set me on a path toward healthcare.”
Starting her journey
While in high school, Underwood decided to pursue a career in community and public health. Not far into her college studies, she was interning on Capitol Hill and spending time at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Ultimately appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Underwood worked on the Affordable Care Act, which now faces a possible repeal.
“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.”
Making the move
Underwood says the transition to politics was fairly seamless, having already served communities and populations to now representing a district of 720,000. But, just as in nursing, establishing a rapport is crucial.
“You have to be able to connect and communicate on a really emotional, human level,” she stressed. “We still have significant shortages of nurses and other providers in our country. We’re never going to make the inroads we need to in terms of health equity and accessibility, and really driving down costs if we don’t have enough providers able to take care of the American people.”
Realizing the possibilities
To nurses experiencing burnout, Underwood says, “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.
“I love nursing,” she added,”because I think you can do anything you want in our profession. We can have several different careers.”
Cindy Riley, [email protected]