“It can be done.”
These four powerful words are printed on a small leather sign that sits at the edge of my desk in D.C.—just as they did for President Reagan.
The sign and this motto have motivated me as I’ve moved through life. It stood prominently at the forefront of my mind when I was working a part-time job to pay for nursing school. It followed me through hospital rounds and rotations during late-night shifts and the stresses of surgical intensive care. It steered me toward the decision to run for office, and it guides me now as I serve the Second District of North Carolina as its first female U.S. representative.
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As a mom, a nurse and a congresswoman, I find that this motto has been paramount in my decision to pursue difficult paths in life. Over time, I have realized that God has a plan for all of us—but it is up to each of us to see it.
Long before I had the title “Representative” in front of my name, I had the letters “R.N.” following it. While there were many avenues I considered before deciding to become a nurse, I knew I wanted a profession that would allow me to improve the lives and opportunities of others. I knew that I wanted to work with people, and I wanted a career focused on finding immediate solutions. Nursing perfectly fit that description. What I didn’t know is that 20-some-odd years later, I’d find another way to fulfill those very same passions of mine—only this time around, as a Congresswoman.
When I was a student, I made the choice to pursue the health and sciences field. I am one of too-few women who opted to pursue this line of work, but I am grateful each and every day for the skills that nursing school taught me.
The STEM fields are an area in which women and minorities are underrepresented—much like in Congress. While girls continue to excel in these subject areas, their numbers in the work force are not representative of this. There are still large disparities with women’s representation in certain science and engineering occupations. For example, women make up just 13% of working engineers and 25% of computer and mathematical scientists. Similarly, women make up just 19% of Congress.
We need these numbers to change. Because when women are underrepresented in any industry or course of study, we stifle their opportunities and limit our nation’s potential. As women, we are half our country’s population, and as such, our perspective and input should play a critical role when it comes to shaping discussion—whether it’s within the engineering field, the computing industry or Congress.
I want to encourage every woman and every girl to pursue the opportunities or pathways they’re interested in—even if they’re considered unconventional. From someone who has been there and is still there, I say: It takes courage to make history, but it can be done.
U.S. Congresswoman Renee Ellmers serves the 2nd District of North Carolina. She is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, including the health subcommittee, and is Chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee.