By Lou J. Bartolo, MSN, RN
In June 2019, in honor of Men’s Health Month, a group of Georgetown nurses, oncology specialists, and professionals from other concentrations volunteered for ONS at the annual Men’s Health Network Congressional Health Screening on Capitol Hill. It was an experience that I will never forget. To be in the offices of the U.S. Congress and to meet elected officials and their staff was incredible, but being able to do what nurses do best—act as the most trusted healthcare professional for patients—was wonderful.
We spent the days, in staggered shifts over the week, screening patients—congressional staffers, elected officials, and more—assisting with minor procedures, educating them on the results, and offering next steps where appropriate. By the end of the day, I was a bag of mixed emotions. I was delighted to see young interns working on Capitol Hill and taking time out of their busy schedules to care for their own health. But on the other hand, I was upset to learn that one staffer—a federal government employee—had to wait to see a provider until her new health insurance benefits became effective.
She needed medications for hypertension and told me, “Getting checked today is the best I can do until next month.” This was a very real reminder that even those who work in the halls of power can have difficulty accessing affordable health care.
When the health fair was coming to a close, a male congressional staffer in his late 20s touched my heart the most. We had an instant connection as he walked up to me and said that his blood pressure and glucose were elevated. The more we spoke, the more we connected about being young men and managing chronic illnesses. Education and empathy were the most important things I could provide at that time. As nurses, our presence was a reassuring pause for these patients, and our symptom management evaluation was their first understanding in their next phase of better health.
I loved that in conjunction with ONS and Men’s Health Month, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test was available to all men over the age of 40, in addition to blood pressure measuring, glucose monitoring, and BMI screenings. Although these were often uncomfortable conversations, it was our job as nurses to remind patients of the importance of testicular self-exams.
This is one volunteer opportunity I will not miss in the future. It had a tremendous impact on me as a nurse, caring for so many people in a single day, and it was obvious to the hundreds of congressional staffers we saw for three days in Congress that our work as healthcare providers made a difference in their lives too. Learn more about ONS health policy and outreach opportunities and join your expertise to the effort.