“My first desire was to be a physician,” Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson says. “But I had great satisfaction in practicing nursing.”

With a specialty in psychiatric nursing, she was the chief psychiatric nurse at the VA Hospital in Dallas before her political career. Then she served in the Texas State Senate before getting elected to Congress.

The first nurse in Congress, Rep. Johnson (D-Dallas) is now 81 and happily serving serving her thirteenth term.

Health care advocate

Throughout her over 40-year congressional career, the Texas democrat has been a nursing and health care advocate.

She encourages men and women to become nurses and to run for office, explaining nurses are beneficial when lawmakers are drafting health care legislation.

“It’s a hard job. It’s not a glamour job."

“What helped me during the health care debate was having the experience of being in a hospital to know what patients feel comfortable with when they have good coverage,” she says, noting patients should focus on healing, not on how they’ll pay medical bills.

She’s frustrated by how much power insurance companies have.

“I still think we have an overabundance of influences from insurance companies who want to make money and not necessarily cover condition,” she says. “It is more costly, because the treatment and modalities are more expensive than what they were in the past.”

Always prepared

Calling nursing “one of the most noble and important professions there is,” Rep. Johnson credits her nursing education with teaching her important skills like learning details, doing the homework and being confident in decision making.

“Nursing prepares you for any role, whether you’re home, as a home keeper and a mother, or in an office, in a factory, or in a hospital,” she says. “You’re well prepared to deal with any of those environments or in the legislature.”

Rep. Johnson says, in the current nursing shortage, America need more nurses, especially highly educated ones who understand technology.

“It’s a hard job. It’s not a glamour job,” she says, explaining that, while nurses feel emotionally satisfied, they’re not financially rewarded. “People take nurses for granted,” says Rep. Johnson, suggesting nursing salaries should be higher.

“I wish there was more appreciation. [Nurses] are partners of the physicians and, in many cases, sometimes more essential to patient care.”