United States Congresswoman Lauren Underwood in conversation with ICN CEO Howard Catton

23 December 2020

2021 – time for a ‘course correction’ with ‘action & investment in nursing’

In the first of a series of informal conversations with nurses who have made their mark in leadership roles outside of their profession, ICN CEO Howard Catton speaks to registered nurse and United States Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, who represents Illinois’ 14th Congressional District.

Ms Underwood became the youngest black woman to serve in Congress when she was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2018, and was re-elected in 2020.

During the conversation with Mr. Catton, Congresswoman Underwood stressed how being a nurse was foundational to her political career. She called on nurses to use the momentum that has gathered around the visibility of nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, to raise their voices louder and get involved in the political process. She argued that some of the political decisions made during the pandemic would have been better if more nurses had been at the heart of the political system.

Congresswoman Underwood said that nurses should not be put off getting involved in the politics of healthcare, either because they considered it a ‘dirty’ ‘combative’ business or because they did not feel confident to contribute:

“I think that a there is a cultural aspect that says, ‘This is combative, it can be dirty, and I don’t want to participate in that’. And personal aspect, when some people say, ‘My husband or my partner makes those political decisions for our household’. And there is another line of thought that says, ‘Maybe I am not good enough, I don’t know enough about this, I am not even fluent in all this decision making, I don’t speak spreadsheet, what are you talking about?’ I think that that sometimes keeps us from identifying where we do have expertise and where we are the only ones that can bring value to the conversation, because we have that first-hand experience.

‘It has been the absence of these nursing voices that has allowed for some of what has happened to occur. If they had heard from us, I think that some of the decisions would have been different along the way. So let’s make that course correction now. In the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, let’s just all affirm for ourselves that we are going to take our impact to the global level.”

Mr Catton agreed that this was a fabulous call to action and absolutely aligned with ICN which is demanding “more action and investment in nursing in 2021” and congratulated Congresswoman Underwood on introducing a bill calling for $1 billion dollar investment in nursing education.

Mr. Catton said: “You are absolutely right, that people have understood that nursing is care and compassion, but it is so much more. It feels like some of the traditional myths and attitudes have been busted. We hear a lot of the nurses who say, ‘Look, it’s been great to have the applause and to have that acknowledgment, but we also need to see change’. We need to see real action, real investment and real commitment to the profession for the future.”

Mr. Catton concluded the interview by asking Congresswoman Underwood what her message was to the ICN’s 130+ national nursing associations and the 27 million nurses around the world, she summed it up simply as thank you for all nurses have done during the pandemic:

“Thank you for the work that you are doing, your willingness to sacrifice time away from family and friends and to be able to show up for folks who literally have no one. On many of our units and in many of these wards, family and friends are not welcome, because it is not safe. Your willingness to continue to do this work that is so often grueling and painful, sometimes thankless. You are just extraordinary, and so many of us see you, and are just in awe -truly! This is going to be tough, but I hope that you draw strength from one another and the commitment that you’ve made to serve during this time of such unbelievable consequence.

Take good care of yourselves. It’s ok to reflect on how hard it is, because it is hard. It is extraordinary what we are fighting through right now. Extend yourselves some grace and together we’ll be able to get through this really tough time.’”