A Conversation with Congresswoman Lauren Underwood Begins Georgetown’s National Nurses Week 2021 Celebration

A screenshot of the Zoom-based conversation for National Nurses Week with participant images clockwise from top left: Dr. Mary Haras, Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, and Dr. Edilma Yearwood
For National Nurses Week 2021, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, a distinguished nurse leader who represents Illinois' 14th Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, joined a conversation with Georgetown's nursing leaders, including Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, Dr. Mary Haras, and Dr. Edilma Yearwood.

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May 6, 2021 – Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, who participated in a conversation with Georgetown’s nursing leaders to celebrate the beginning of National Nurses Week 2021, said, “I am so proud to be a nurse.”

And to the nursing workforce, she shared a message of gratitude, particularly reflecting on the profound sadness and the added stress the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the lives of nurses. 

“I know that it’s heavy, and it is hard,” she said. “But your work has made such an impact, and I am so pleased to have this opportunity to celebrate you.”

Underwood added, “Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for your commitment, and thank you for the high degree of excellence that you continue to bring to work every day. You inspire your communities.” 

(Visit a video of the conversation with Congresswoman Underwood.)

Legislative Priorities

“I hope that you are continuing to take good care of yourselves because you have to,” she advised. “And I know that it’s hard to sometimes prioritize that on top of everything else that’s going on. Please be kind and gracious to yourself.”

Underwood, who represents Illinois’ 14th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke with Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, director of the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice Program, Dr. Mary Haras, chair of the Department of Advanced Nursing Practice, and Dr. Edilma Yearwood, chair of the Department of Professional Nursing Practice.

Their conversation covered the congresswoman’s leadership with the Black Maternal Health Caucus and on the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act; her work on veterans health, such as her sponsorship of the Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act that was signed into law by President Donald Trump in the fall of 2020; and her focus on mental health. 

Regarding her work on the Momnibus Act, she said, “This is a disparity that’s been around my entire lifetime. I’m 34 years old, and you know, we’ve not seen any national initiatives to really tackle this issue and save moms’ lives. . . . The Momnibus is a collection of 12 bills to comprehensively address every dimension of the Black maternal health crisis that we face in this country.”

Congresswoman Lauren Underwood's official portrait, taken while the Congresswoman is standing in a hallway with columns.
Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, a distinguished nurse leader, represents Illinois’ 14th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy Underwood’s House of Representatives website.)

The congresswoman noted that another issue she works “on really aggressively is mental health and suicide prevention,” particularly to address the crisis of among veterans. In addition to the Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act, Underwood has introduced the Lethal Means Safety Training Act.  

Path to Congress

Before Congress, Underwood was a senior advisor in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during President Barack Obama’s administration and worked on the Affordable Care Act. She also taught in Georgetown’s online graduate program in nursing. 

As her official biography reads, she “is the first woman, the first person of color, and the first millennial to represent her community in Congress. She is also the youngest African American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives.”

Before the conversation, members of the community were invited to submit questions for Underwood, one of which asked about why, as a nurse, she decided to run for office.

She recounted how her then-member of Congress voted in favor of legislation that would have made individuals with pre-existing conditions, like herself, face cost-prohibitive health care coverage.

“I got really upset and said, ‘You know what, it’s on. I’m running,’ and launched the campaign. That’s exactly what happened. I got mad, and I couldn’t let it go. . . . You have to have the courage to lead,” she recalled.

Health Equity and Racial Justice

Given the soon-to-be released National Academy of Medicine report The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity, scheduled for May 11, Underwood discussed the important role nurses can play in promoting health equity and addressing the determinants of health.

“I don’t think we have an option not to lead,” Underwood 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.”

Underwood added that the past year has been a time when many have focused on equity and the “systemic racism throughout our society and throughout our health care system.”

“I hope that we have taken the opportunity to reflect on our role as individual clinicians, as individual providers in this larger system,” she said. “If we haven’t started to do that hard work, well, guess what, it’s time. And then we have to have a commitment. We have to have the courage. We have to have the will and sheer determination to fight for change. And it starts with ourselves.”

(Visit a story about Congresswoman Underwood’s participation in a 2019 panel at Georgetown celebrating nursing.)

By Bill Cessato