RWJF Health Policy Fellow Lindsey Harris and How She’s Working to Improve Maternal Health

Oct 12, 2023
Lindsey Harris, DNP, who was awarded the RWJF Health Policy Fellowship, is wearing a black dress and suit jacket and standing next to Representative Lauren Underwood of Illinois, wearing an orange-pink short-sleeved dress. They are at the Maternal Health Caucus 2023 Stakeholder Summit with American Flags and summit promotional banners on either side.
Lindsey Harris DNP (left) with Representative Lauren Underwood of Illinois, District 14, at the Maternal Health Caucus 2023 Stakeholder Summit.

The RWJF Health Policy Fellows Program is an opportunity for exceptional mid-career healthcare professionals and scientists to gain hands-on experience with health policy. Fellows participate in the policy formulation process at the federal level and work directly with legislators. Although primarily for mid-career, there is no age limitation, and candidates should have 10-15 years of experience in their area of expertise. For the duration of the program, fellows are relocated to Washington, D.C., to contribute to health policy in the nation’s capital.

We interviewed Lindsey Harris, DNP, RN, who was awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellowship this past year. As a doctoral-trained nurse, she takes care of patients full-time, teaches the next generation of nurses, and advocates for policies to improve outcomes for everyone. She shares her journey leading to and during the fellowship and how she is making a difference in healthcare and public policy.

What inspired you to pursue nursing as a career track and continue your education to receive a doctoral degree?

I’ve always had the heart for helping and serving our community. Training as a health professional seemed to be a natural progression toward fueling my passion, and the Nursing profession was the perfect opportunity. I chose nursing because of its holistic practice and ability to treat the entire person.

While training to become a nurse practitioner (NP), I quickly learned it’s not just about treatment; we strive to focus more on preventative care. Our goal is not only to treat and manage conditions and diseases but also to prevent them. Becoming an NP allowed me to play a more advanced role in my patients’ lives and a more integral part in deciding to obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice. I wanted advanced knowledge to provide the best care based on the best evidence for those I serve. Nurses are the foundation of healthcare and the heartbeat of the community. As the largest profession in healthcare, we truly have a pulse on the greater needs of the community. Nurses are also advocates for addressing the needs of everyone.

You were also president of the Birmingham Black Nurses Association; how does that tie in with your personal and professional journey?

This took place while I was still in nursing school. At Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Jennifer Coleman, my pediatric course professor, always discussed the importance of joining professional organizations. One in particular was the Birmingham Black Nurses Association. Joining this organization allowed me to grow so much personally and professionally. I became a member of the Birmingham chapter of the National Black Nurses Association. I initially became the student representative, then the secretary, and then the president. I will say this: the Birmingham Black Nurses Association members have helped mold and shape me into the professional nurse I am now.

Later, I was mentored and encouraged to run for secretary and then the president of the Alabama State Nurses Association. I became the first person of color president of the State Nurses Association in 107 years.


Lindsey Harris standing at the U.S. Capitol Building. She is standing behind a short black fence in a red dress. Her hands are out in front of her, making a triangle with her fingers together for the "top" and thumbs touching for the "base."
Lindsey at the U.S. Capitol Building gathering with congressional members and staff of the sorority Delta Sigma Theta Inc.

What led you to apply to the RWJF Health Policy Fellows Program?

I have always been very involved in professional organizations, the primary basis being service. Serving the community and churches, coordinating and participating in health fairs, and partnering with our school system and the city and state government officials all grew my desire to serve the greater community through advocacy and policy.

What truly amplified my desire to serve in a greater capacity was after becoming the president of the state Nurses Association during the height of COVID-19. As the president, I had plans to visit every district twice! But all that came to a halt. Nursing is the foundation of healthcare, so nurses were quickly placed front and center. I redirected my focus toward advocating for nurses and our constituents of Alabama. My term as president lasted for two years, and the yearning to serve communities on a grander scale grew, too.

How has your time been as an RWJF Health Policy fellow?

The fellowship began with an intensive three-and-a-half-month orientation. We had the chance to learn from national leaders, think tanks, interest groups, executive branch officials, and congressional members and staff.

In the second phase, we were interviewed to be matched and placed in the federal legislative and executive branches. I had the incredible opportunity to interview in both the executive and legislative branches. I was granted the opportunity to work with Representative Lauren Underwood, representing District 14 of Illinois. She is a fantastic nurse, policymaker, and genuine advocate!

As a health policy fellow in the United States House of Representatives, I meet stakeholders and community leaders from Illinois District 14 nationwide. During my time on the Hill, a key focus was the “Momnibus.” The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act is a compilation of 13 bills addressing maternal mortality, morbidity, and disparities in the United States.

Now, I am extending my fellowship within the office of Representative Lauren Underwood to continue this critical work to improve outcomes for mothers in our country. This work is vital, and I plan to continue it after completing the fellowship.

What have been some of the highlights? What do you hope to gain from this experience?

There have been numerous highlights throughout my fellowship. During the orientation, we had the opportunity to meet with national public health leaders such as Daniel Dawes, Dr. David Satcher, Dr. Francis Collins, and many more. We also traveled to two other states to observe their healthcare infrastructure and identify the needs and gaps of the state. While in the fellowship, I had the chance to visit the West Wing of the White House and sit in the House gallery while Yoon Suk Yeol (President of South Korea) addressed the United States Congress.

Also at the top of my list was the ability to help plan and attend the Black Maternal Health Summit. It was an unforgettable experience filled with leaders from across the United States all in one space coming together to improve outcomes for mothers across the county.

Lastly, I must mention the Illinois District 14 Staff retreat. This was the best experience thus far. Meeting and getting to know the D.C. and District staff was invaluable. Honestly, the opportunity to be a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow has been a transformational highlight in my life. My goal was to gain a different perspective on policy and healthcare, and I have succeeded thus far.

As for the next steps, I plan to continue learning about creating legislation with our communities as the priority. As an RWJF Health Policy Fellow alumni, I am very eager to make new connections and network with the program’s alumni association.

Lindsey Harris, smiling and standing at the Speaker of the House’s white and black balcony. She overlooks the Washington Monument in the background on a partly cloudy day.
Lindsey Harris standing at the Speaker of the House’s balcony, overlooking the Washington Monument.

And finally, what parting words can you leave us with?

My initial thoughts are words of encouragement. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Philippians 4:13. I would advise you never to stop learning and learn all you can to become well-rounded and indispensable. Lastly, find your passion and create opportunities that fuel your passion (outside of your vocation).


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Head shot of Lindsey Harris Lindsey Harris, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, is a doctoral-prepared family nurse practitioner. Her nursing career is dedicated to empowering the voice of nursing through policy and mentorship. Her learned experience as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow will help amplify the voice of our communities and the nursing profession. Lindsey Harris is a graduate of Samford University with a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a two-time graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, receiving her Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor in Nursing Practice.


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