Profiles in Nursing

Terri Mills and the Office of the National Nurse

An inventive idea to educate the public on healthcare issues and create a national nursing volunteer corps.

By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN
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Terri Mills and Office of National NurseIn 2005, the New York Times published an innovative idea by Teri Mills, MS, RN, ANP, CE in its opinion pages. Mills, a nurse educator from Portland, Oregon, proposed the Office of National Nurse as one that might change the health of the nation for the better. Noting that the public health role of the U.S. Surgeon General has become largely ineffective, an opinion later shared by then-office holder Richard Carmona himself, Mills offered the non-partisan nurse office as one way to hold down healthcare costs.

In her essay, Mills gave four good reasons why the nursing position could be beneficial to the entire country. Prevention of disease is key to lowering healthcare costs, and the National Nurse that she proposed could offer weekly 15 minute broadcasts to be heard on the radio and via Internet on topics ranging from how to have a healthy heart to “how to avoid being swept into the growing tide of obesity.” Research has shown that nurses are the most trusted healthcare practitioners, and the role would capitalize on this to further general health education and disease prevention.

Mills hopes that the Office of National Nurse could help organize a National Nurse Corps – local nursing volunteers able to tackle health problems on a local or regional level. Furthermore, she believes that a National Nurse would “give public recognition to the valuable work that nurses perform each day” and possibly attract qualified applicants to the profession, thereby stemming the shortage expected to reach 400,000 fewer nurses than needed by the year 2020. This is coincidentally about the time when Baby Boomers may expect to begin needing increasing amounts of nursing care. Finally, the poor image of nursing so often seen in the media could be put to rest.

This widely-read opinion by Mills touched a nerve with American nurses. Nurses have always been involved with patient education. Now, with physician time being increasingly constrained by insurance regulations, offering accessible and understandable health information could only serve to benefit everyone it reaches. In addition, volunteer local events managed by nurses could begin to address the problem of access to healthcare and the overuse of ERs as first line health providers for those who have no medical coverage. Politicians agree—promoting disease prevention is more cost effective than disease treatment. This is a concept already well understood by the nursing community and one that could easily be shared to the advantage of all.

Since her essay was published two years ago, Mills has sent a petition to Congress asking that the proposed non-partisan Office of National Nurse be funded “to enhance the health of all citizens through education and community outreach.” The legislation, known as HR 4903 was sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) and co-sponsored by 42 representatives, including Carolyn McCarthy of New York, herself a nurse.

The grassroots effort by Mills has spun off a National Nurse Team that has spoken at events across the country, including a national teleconference that included Santa Barbara Community College. In addition Mills and/or members of her team have spoken to the Santa Ana Public Health Nurses, the Orange County Employees Association, the American Association of Community Colleges (held in California), and the National Black Nurse Association.

Mills has been heard on Health in 30, a streaming-radio health show produced by Barbara Ficarra, also a nurse. Presentations have been held in states from California to Georgia, and Mills hopes that as nurses join the team they will gain the skills to make presentations to groups and legislators in their own area. Mills emphasizes that despite her qualifications, she is not seeking that office herself.

You can find out more about which legislators have signed on to the idea by visiting the website devoted to the proposed Office of the National Nurse at A link will enable you to sign the petition yourself.

Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, has worked as a nurse since 1979, and has written extensively for various nursing publications as well as the New York Times.

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