Lives of service: Stories of healthcare professionals in congress

By George N. Saliba
Published February 14, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • There are 17 physicians and 3 nurses in the 117th United States Congress.

  • The stories of elected officials who first chose medical careers and then pursued elected office can be inspiring.

  • Each congressperson has accomplishments in serving patients and constituents.

Although many clinicians are dedicated solely to practicing medicine throughout their careers, some providers choose to pursue elected office, serving their communities and country in new ways. 

Of the 17 physicians and three nurses serving in the 117th Congress, MDLinx is highlighting the stories of three Democrats and three Republicans who have made the leap from treating patients to sponsoring and debating federal legislation.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa)

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa)

At age 15, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was severely burned in a kitchen fire. The experience would inspire her to become a physician, according to a 2019 campaign video. But Miller-Meeks was one of eight children in a limited-income family, and her parents discouraged her from becoming a doctor. 

At 16, she left home and enrolled at San Antonio Junior College, enlisted in the Army at age 18, and worked until she earned a nursing degree from Texas Christian University, a masters degree in education from the University of Southern California, and a medical degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

She served in the Army as a private, nurse, and an ophthalmologist over 24 years. Miller-Meeks also had an ophthalmology practice until 2008. Serving as an Iowa Republican state senator beginning in 2019, she had a successful 2020 bid for Congress.

Miller-Meeks has recently co-sponsored legislation including the Child Tax Credit for Pregnant Moms Act of 2022.

Rep. Gregory F. Murphy (R-North Carolina)

Rep. Gregory F. Murphy (R-North Carolina)

Rep. Gregory F. Murphy is the “only practicing physician in Congress seeing patients a few days a week still,” according to his biography. He graduated magna cum laude from Davidson College in 1985, and then with honors and as a member of AOA from University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine. Murphy went on to open a medical practice. Murphy also served as a medical missionary in India when he was 20, and later in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.

Murphy served in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019, where he was Senior Chair of Health Policy and Chair of Health and Human Services Appropriations. His “greatest focus was on helping reduce the tragic effects of the opioid epidemic.” Murphy later won a special election and was sworn into Congress in 2019.

Murphy is a vice-chair of the House Republican Doctors Caucus, has been “a prolific publisher of medical information during the COVID 19 pandemic,” and is a co-sponsor of the HALT Fentanyl Act.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)

Elected to Congress in 2010, Sen. Rand Paul continues his work as an ophthalmologist, performing complimentary eye surgeries for patients in Kentucky and, separately, through the Children of the Americas Program.

Paul graduated from Duke Medical School in 1988, and, after completing an internship and residency, opened an ophthalmology practice. 

“Dr. Paul's entrance into politics is indicative of his life’s work as a surgeon: a desire to diagnose problems and provide practical solutions, whether it be in Bowling Green, Ky., or Washington, D.C,” Paul’s biography reads.

Paul’s website describes him as an “outspoken champion for constitutional liberties and fiscal responsibility.” His various positions on foreign policy, government surveillance, and healthcare (e.g., a report of his stance against universal healthcare) appear to align with that statement. In January 2022, Paul announced that he had introduced legislation to “overturn the COVID-19 vaccination requirements on consumers and students imposed by the District of Columbia.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California)

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California)

The son of Californian farm workers, Rep. Raul Ruiz availed himself of public education and eventually graduated magna cum laude from UCLA, afterward earning a medical degree from Harvard University. He would also earn two master’s degrees from Harvard becoming “the first Latino to earn three graduate degrees from Harvard University,” according to his biography.

An emergency medicine career followed, in which Ruiz established a mentorship program for young people who aspired to become physicians. He also assisted with opening a free medical clinic for underserved communities.

Regarding his leap from medicine to politics, Ruiz told UCLA Magazine in 2014:

“I saw unemployed patients in emergency rooms gasping for air because they couldn’t afford medicine or who went days without eating in order to pay for medicine, and students I mentored deferring their dream of attending university because they had to work in fields or restaurants [to earn money for tuition]. In the fields, my father taught me never to complain unless I was part of the solution. I decided to run to improve the wellness of the people I serve.”

Ruiz is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He has sponsored an array of legislation since assuming office in 2013. In February 2022, he announced legislation aimed at providing “long-overdue benefits to thousands of veteran caregivers across the country” via the bill Support our Services to Veterans Caregivers Act.

Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Washington)

Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Washington)

Rep. Kim Schrier is not only one of two women physicians in the 117th Congress, but she is also the first pediatrician to serve. The daughter of a public school teacher and an engineer, Schrier’s father helped foster her interest in science, and, according to American Academy of Pediatrics News (AAP), an endocrinologist who treated her Type I diabetes also inspired her. Schrier earned a medical degree from the University of California, Davis, in 1997.

 AAP reported that Schrier was displeased that the Affordable Care Act was being attacked in 2017, and when a congressman wouldn't vote against “dismantling” it, Schrier sought her own congressional seat. She was elected in 2018.

 “As a physician who has worked in a broken healthcare system, Kim understands what changes need to be made to make it work better for both patients and providers,” Schrier’s biography reads.

Schrier has recently sponsored bills including the Healthy Meal Time Act of 2022 and the Data Transparency and Drug Safety Act of 2022.

Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois)

Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois)

Rep. Lauren Underwood told Education and Career News that she routinely saw a cardiologist for a heart condition as a child, and that the experience inspired her to pursue a healthcare career. She became a nurse upon graduating from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University. A course she took on nursing politics while at Michigan also influenced her. 

Underwood later served as a senior advisor in the US Department of Health and Human Services, and then, in 2017, worked for a Medicaid managed care company before winning congressional elections in 2018 and 2020.

Underwood’s biography notes she is “the youngest African American woman to serve in the US House of Representatives.”

A co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Underwood serves on several other committees. She introduced the Health Care Affordability Act of 2019.

What this means for you

Careers that overlap medicine and national politics are not commonplace, but healthcare professionals who pursue elected office have numerous, inspirational role models in the 117th Congress.

Read Next: How clinicians can confront public health issues


  1. About Greg. U.S. Congressman Gregory F. Murphy, M.D.

  2. About Rand. Rand Paul: U.S. Senator for Kentucky

  3. Biography. Lauren Underwood: 14th District of Illinois.

  4. Biography. US Representative Raul Ruiz: Serving California’s 36th District

  5. Dr. Rand Paul Introduces Legislation to Repeal DC Vaccine Mandates for Consumers and Students. Rand Paul: U.S. Senator for Kentucky

  6. Feuer, Jack. Raul Ruiz’s Political Prescription. UCLA Magazine. January 1, 2014 

  7. The Health Care Affordability Act of 2019 (H.R. 1868). Lauren Underwood: 14th District of Illinois.

  8. Mariannette Miller-Meeks for Congress. YouTube.  Sep 30, 2019

  9. Hutzler, Alexandra. Rand Paul, who calls universal health care “slavery,” will have surgery in Canada but insists hospital is private. Newsweek. January 14, 2019.

  10. Mariannette Miller-Meeks for Congress. YouTube.  Sep 30, 2019

  11. Jenco, Melissa. First pediatrician elected to Congress prioritizes health care, gun safety. American Academy of Pediatrics. February 19, 2019.

  12. Riley, Cindy. Lauren Underwood Shares Her Journey From RN to Congresswoman. Education and Career News

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