Health care professionals belong in public office

Illustration by Noelle Hepworth

Ishaan Nandwani, Contributing Writer

Now more than ever, we need to elect leaders who understand the individual struggles for health care rights and believe in science. Who better equipped to face today’s important decisions than health care professionals themselves?

At first thought, health workers leading the government may seem like an unconventional and even absurd idea. After all, when we think of politicians, our minds typically turn to lawyers and policy experts, not physicians and nurses who attend school with the primary goal of caring for patients through the study of science.

During this time, however, health care has become a topic of intense political debate. Left-wing politicians have admonished the current administration’s failure to contain the virus. The rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout our nation is largely due to our commander-in-chief’s inability to listen to science and take the disease seriously.

The right has repeatedly attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — a health care overhaul law signed in 2010 by former President Barack Obama — notably through the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court will hear a case determining the future of the ACA the week after this November’s general election. The addition of Barrett to the court could cause millions with pre-existing conditions and adults under 26 who rely on their parents’ coverage to lose their insurance.

This would be especially dangerous during a global pandemic. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 1.12 million people worldwide have died and experienced the devastating health consequences of COVID-19, which is far from over. 

Today, Gov. Ralph Northam is the only doctor serving as governor in the U.S. But health care workers serving in government positions are far more common than one would expect. Many would be surprised to find out that there are 14 physicians currently serving in the House of Representatives and three in the U.S. Senate. 

Although it’s true that health care workers come from both parties — and many of the physicians currently serving in Congress are Republicans — there are a handful of former medical professionals running as Democrats in the upcoming election.

Hiral Tipirneni, a 2020 candidate for the House of Representatives in Arizona’s 6th District, said in an interview that her incentive to run for office stemmed from the desire to protect health insurance coverage. Serving as an emergency room physician for 10 years, Tipirneni’s experiences provided her with a deep understanding of patients’ everyday struggles.

In Virginia, internal medicine physician Cameron Webb is running to represent the commonwealth’s 5th District in the House of Representatives. Similar to Tipirneni, Webb is advocating for progressive platforms, such as expanding access to health care and utilizing his physician background to appeal to voters concerned about the pandemic.

Health care workers should absolutely be involved in making policy decisions about the most important issues plaguing our nation. Doctors, nurses and physician assistants alike possess a unique skill set that makes them well equipped to tackle these issues.

Doctors are put through the ringer professionally. They endure eight years of higher education plus an additional residency training program, gaining not only rigorous scientific competency but also invaluable interpersonal skills. From day one, they’re taught to place humanity at the forefront of their profession.

When I think of the kind of leaders I want for my country, that’s what I mean — someone who can empathize with my personal concerns and considers humanity when making decisions about critical issues such as access to abortion and gun legislation. Health care workers have already begun to fill these roles and it could very well be the start of a new era in politics.

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