The National Nurse Act (H.R. 485), if enacted, would establish the position of National Nurse for Public Health within the Office of the Surgeon General, making the role of the nation’s top nurse significantly more visible. The National Nurse for Public Health would work alongside the surgeon general to focus on health promotion, improving healthcare literacy, and reducing health disparities. U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) introduced the bill in February. It is cosponsored by Peter King (R-NY) and more than 70 other congressional representatives.
The National Nurse for Public Health would provide leadership and coordination of nursing professional affairs in public health service, conduct media campaigns, and provide guidance and leadership for activities that increase public safety and emergency preparedness. The nurse in this position would also help to identify national health priorities, strengthen the relationship between government agencies and health-related national organizations, and promote the dissemination of evidence-based practice in educating the public on health promotion and disease prevention.
Congresswoman Johnson is the first registered nurse to serve in the U.S. Congress. She has stated that the bill is intended to elevate the visibility of nursing. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), one of the bill’s cosponsors, believes that “having a national nurse for public health join with the surgeon general will make it possible to expand health promotion and disease prevention efforts in our communities.”
A Chief Nurse Officer (CNO) has worked within the Office of the Surgeon General for decades. However, it has been a low-profile position. If this bill is passed, the National Nurse for Public Health would continue to fulfill all of the duties of the CNO but would become a much more public figure.
A Nurse Promoting Nurses
As a nurse, Congresswoman Johnson believes that nurses play a critical role in health promotion and disease prevention. She believes that this bill will raise awareness about illness prevention and health improvement. The National Nurse for Public Health would also serve as a source of encouragement, inspiration, and professional direction for nurses. Inspiring nurses to make positive career choices, including participating in community prevention efforts, can have a positive effect on public health because nurses are uniquely positioned as a trusted source of health information.
The bill has been assigned to a congressional committee, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate.