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Written By Zyra Dent

“Nobody knows our story like we do. Nobody can tell our story like we do,” said Senator Gale Adcock, a member of the North Carolina State Senate.

Nurses and midwives from across the United States gathered at Sanford for the 2nd annual Healing Politics Campaign School. An initiative aimed at empowering them to run for local and national elections.

Two women smiling at camera in front of sign
Kelly Willenberg, DBA, RN, CHRC, CHC (left) joined the group again for the second year. Pictured here with Kimberly Gordon, DNP, CRNA, co-founder of Healing Politics.

The four-day event featured an array of workshops and lectures covering topics such as campaign strategy, media engagement, and effective communication. Participants had the opportunity to learn from current nurse legislators, Senator Gale Adcock of N.C. and Senator Kristin Roers of N.D., who shared their experiences and insights in politics.

Born in Cary, N.C., Adcock broke new ground in 2023 by becoming the first nurse elected to the N.C. Senate. Growing up in a family with apolitical beliefs, Adcock never imagined a career in politics. Her journey into public service showcases her rise from healthcare to legislative advocacy.

Two women sitting and speaking.
NC Senator Gale Adcock (left) attended the conference and took time to mentor participants. 

A nurse family practitioner, Adcock’s passion for change began early. At just 26, she joined the N.C. Nurses Association, diving into advocacy efforts that would shape her future. Her extensive resume in political action highlights her commitment to making a difference. She attributes her success in politics to her willingness to take risks, a trait that has served her well in local government roles.

Leading an extensive career in politics, Adcock has held many positions. She served four terms in the N.C. House before joining the Senate and has also been a member of the Cary Town Council. Today, she speaks to other nurses, encouraging them to engage in political action to promote healthcare equity and proper representation.

“We tell great stories, real stories, sticky stories, that people will then use to make a point in the media before they'll make the bills after them. They will take our narrative, and they will tell it in the places we want them to tell it,” Adcock said.

The conference focused on themes of community, representation, equity, and diversity. A highlight was the panel discussion led by Senator Adcock and Senator Roers.

They underscored the crucial role of nurses in political healthcare representation and, through compelling storytelling, demonstrated that anyone from any background could pursue a political career.

Woman being interview by film crew.
Kiara Brantley-Jones from ABC News interviewed attendees for an upcoming segment to be featured on Good Morning America. 

Attendees expressed enthusiasm about building community and receiving valuable advice on launching their own campaigns. The conference gave them the opportunity to think of ways they could contribute their experiences to their communities politically.

Danielle McCamey, a campaign school participant, thanked the organization for making knowledge accessible and empowering nurses and midwives to recognize the value of their expertise.

“As nurses, our mission is to take care of the patient. We often don’t think about how the work we do is political. We don't really think about the things that we do as advocacy, as creating space so that there's more opportunity. They [healing politics] are helping us change that narrative. We are at the patient’s bedside, but that is all the downstream manifestation of what's been developed upstream, the policy and the procedures, and the structures that are created because of the laws that are created,” McCamey said.

This is something Kimberly Gordon, co-founder of Healing Politics, says that she hopes to help nurses understand.

“Nurses are focused, like laser-focused, on the patient family, the community that they come from, the holistic care. But they don't often think about the impact that they're having on their larger communities,” Gordon said. “But they do have that impact every single day, and that's why I find that advocacy and policy piece so important to really communicate that not just to our legislators and stakeholders, but to nurses themselves about the impact they have in their communities.”

For the second consecutive year, Sanford faculty member Nick Carnes was involved in the collaboration between the campaign school and Sanford.

Carnes' research emphasizes the importance of working-class involvement in politics, aligning with the campaign school's objective to reduce barriers to political participation. His work underscores the necessity of including diverse voices, particularly from underrepresented and working-class backgrounds, to foster a more inclusive approach to civic engagement. Working with Sanford’s Polis: Center for Politics, Carnes helped co-founders Kimberly Gordon and Lisa Summers with the initial creation of Healing Politics, and continues to stay active with the organization today. Carnes spoke at the opening dinner event for the conference.

This initiative aligns with Sanford’s mission to improve lives and communities by preparing individuals for leadership, civic engagement, and public service, extending its reach to include some of the nation's hardest workers: nurses.

Director of Polis, Deondra Rose, Kevin D. Gorter Associate Professor of Public Policy at Sanford, said that as a scholar of democracy and education, she has noticed the lack of diverse professional backgrounds in Congress and the Senate, where lawyers and career politicians are overrepresented, while medical professionals like nurses and midwives are notably absent.

Emphasizing the importance of inclusive representation in a democracy, she views the new program as a crucial step towards ensuring all voices are heard in the democratic process.

Bridging the intersection of policy and healthcare, nurses like Lisa Summers, co-founder of Healing Politics, said she finds this intersection fascinating.

“We can see more and more how civic health impacts the health of our community. So, this idea of political determinants of health, we’re beginning to realize, is as important and more important than those social determinants of health that we talk about all the time,” Summers said.

Healing Politics is an educational, non-partisan nonprofit organization that aims to inspire and motivate nurses and midwives to run for elected office in local and national government bodies. By partnering with nurse legislators at the local, state, and federal levels, the organization hopes to build a culture of civic engagement within the professions.