1. Shalo, Sibyl


A whirlwind grassroots campaign gains momentum on Capitol Hill.


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Was the 19th century's Clara Barton the last nationally recognized American nurse? Or was it her near-contemporary, Lillian Wald? Teri Mills has been trying to figure it out. She and a team of dedicated supporters are working to turn around nurses' obscurity. Mills, an on-call NP and a nursing educator at Portland (Oregon) Community College, has devoted the last 18 months to campaigning for a federal office of nursing that would be on a par with the Office of the Surgeon General.


And with nearly 40 congressional cosponsors now urging its passage, the National Nurse Act of 2006 (HR 4903) is trying to help right what's wrong with patients and the nation's supply of nurses. It began with a May 20, 2005, op-ed article in the New York Times, in which Mills suggested that an Office of the National Nurse be established. A national nurse, Mills said in the piece, could capitalize on patients' trust of nurses. "The emphasis would be on prevention: how to have a healthy heart; how to raise your teenagers without going crazy; how to avoid being swept into the growing tide of obesity," Mills wrote.

Figure. Teri Mills (... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Teri Mills (left) and colleague Alisa Schneider at the Oregon Student Nurses Association annual meeting in February. Schneider's proposal for an Office of the National Nurse served as the basis for the legislation introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Lois Capps (D-CA).

Mills says that the Times piece became the third-most e-mailed item on the newspaper's Web site within 24 hours of its publication. And within a week Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) entered it into the Congressional Record. Shortly thereafter, using grant money from Johnson and Johnson and the American Federation of Teachers, Mills and her team (including Terri Polick, vice president of National Nurse; Roxanne Fulcher of the American Association of Community Colleges; and Pat Carroll) met with U.S. Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), all members of the House Nursing Caucus.


The team's lobbying paid off. On March 8, Capps introduced the National Nurse Act, which was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The bill has bipartisan support and more than 1,800 petition signatures have been gathered, but it's unlikely that it will be heard this session-which Mills sees as an advantage.


"If the bill were voted on today, it would probably be killed because not enough members know the details," says Mills. "I'm glad to have the time to educate more people." Mills is also pursuing the endorsements of major organizations like the American Nurses Association (ANA) and nursing specialty groups, whose leaders she would like to see among the group that would appoint the nation's top nurse. The ANA hasn't endorsed the campaign and declined to be interviewed for this article. But the association said in a statement that it "has chosen to remain focused on existing, more direct avenues toward change in nursing and health care, including advancement of nursing legislation; empowerment of nurses to run for office and seek appointment to agencies and decision-making bodies at the state and federal levels," and involvement of nurses in the legislative and political arenas.


So does Mills think she should be the national nurse? "I'm not qualified," she says. "I would be an excellent member of the team, and I would certainly do everything I could to support the national nurse, but I do not have a background in public health. I'd want this person to be respected within the nursing and medical communities, and the public health system." To learn more about the National Nurse campaign, visit


Sibyl Shalo