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Advocate Spotlight: Jen Barr, RN

When Jen Barr appeared in front of Oregon’s Senate Health Care and Human Services Committee to testify in favor of primary care loan repayments earlier this year, she was nervous about testifying before legislators for the first time, but also hopeful that her testimony might help her patients and other providers.

After testifying, Jen received a surprise congratulatory email from a member of the Oregon Center for Nursing, who saw her testimony and wanted to thank her for her advocacy.

She received another pleasant surprise when both the bills she testified on this session, Senate Bill 440: Primary Care Loan Repayment and House Bill 2902: Nurse Practitioner Payment Parity, were signed into law.

Jen learned two important lessons from her time at the legislature this session: you never know who is paying attention and one person’s story can make a difference.

Jen has been a member of ONA’s Cabinet on Health Policy since 2012. She is an RN at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center and a Doctor of Nursing Practice student at the University of Portland. Here’s what else she had to say about her work as a nurse advocate.

How did you decide to become a nurse advocate?

One of the charge nurses on my unit is president of our ONA bargaining unit, and one day she overheard me talking about a paper I had to write for a ‘Social and Health Policy’ class in my NP program. She asked if I knew about ONA’s Cabinet on Health Policy, which I didn’t, and she said I might find it interesting. So I went to a Cabinet meeting just to sit in and a whole new aspect of health care opened up for me. The Cabinet was discussing, ‘What are we doing with legislation? What are we doing statewide? How can we better coordinate care?’ and, ‘How are we helping people get access to care throughout the state?’ I thought, ‘Thank goodness someone is working on these issues and I’d like to be involved too.’

What advice would you offer to other nurses?

I think advocacy is intuitive to nurses because we advocate for our patients every day. We speak up for our patients with doctors and with other providers and sometimes we even speak up for them when we’re talking with their own families. It’s something we’ve been trained to do. This is just broadening the scope from advocating for my one patient, to advocating for all my patients. That can be as simple as talking to a unit manager about how something can be done better or, on a larger level, being involved with organizations like ONA that can have a statewide impact.

What have you learned from your advocacy?

I’ve learned a lot about the future of health care in Oregon and where we’re headed. Because I understand that direction better now, I think I can be a better leader for other nurses by sharing that knowledge. I’ve also learned that it actually matters when I speak up. Senate Bill 440 and House Bill 2902 are two treat examples of that.

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