From the ER to the Senate Chamber: Donna Campbell

Published On September 23, 2013 | September/October 2013

Donna Campbell

“In the E.R. once you diagnose the problem, you fix it quickly. In the Legislature, you may diagnose the problem quickly, but fixing it takes a lot longer”

By Jaime Netzer

Donna Campbell is both a practicing emergency room physician and an elected state senator, representing the 25th district of the state of Texas. And, she says, the two have more in common than you might think. As a young woman, and at her mother’s urging, Campbell first attended nursing school, but found herself yearning for more. She explains that nursing is “the service and delivery of patient care,” while medicine gets to the root of the problem: “Being a physician does encompass that service and delivery but the primary aspect is knowing the pathophysiology to get into the details of what’s wrong. What is the problem, and what is the solution? The solutions are directed back at the cause, and that seemed like a better fit for me because I’m always asking questions.”

That natural curiosity extended beyond medicine to government, too. Campbell had long been an active citizen and strong conservative, and when she saw an opportunity to fix the problems she saw around her, she went for it, becoming, in 2012, the first person in Texas history to defeat an incumbent Republican senator in a primary election. She says some of the same principles that motivate
her career in medicine are a natural tie-in with her career in politics. “It’s still service-oriented,” Campbell says. “We have such a responsibility in government—there are so many true problems in the state of Texas, and we’re taking care of 26 million people, so obviously there’s a variety of problems.” But in the government, as opposed to the ER, everything moves slowly, Campbell
says. “In the E.R. once you diagnose the problem, you fix it quickly,” Campbell says. “In the Legislature, you may diagnose the problem quickly, but fixing it takes a lot longer. It’s a much more deliberative approach with lots of input from others—in the case of the Senate that means getting 21 people on board to meet the two-thirds rule. Well, in the E.R. you don’t get that long. There’s already another patient waiting.”

A devout Christian, Campbell has long advocated for pro-life legislation. But seven-and-a-half years ago, something happened that she calls an “affirmation.” While working a shift at Columbus Hospital in the ER, a young woman came in who had gone into emergency labor. The baby was up for adoption, and suddenly, Campbell had a new daughter. Campbell met the mother, because she wanted to thank her. “I told her, ‘You had a choice to make, and you chose life and you will always be blessed for that choice. And by you giving life, God used you to give a gift that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise—and I will always take care of her.’” Campbell has also put forth legislation affected by her career as a doctor, filing a bill to bring more transparency to the Texas Medical Board and ensure due process for physicians when a complaint is levied against them. Her hope is to help prevent frivolous complaints, put more focus on the real complaints, and give physicians the same due process other professionals are guaranteed.

Other areas where Campbell wants to focus her efforts to ensure the quality of Texas health care include mental health and the creation of more resident GME slots to ensure doctors who are trained in Texas stay in Texas. And women’s health, in general, is important to Campbell: “As a member of the Legislature, I will continue to make funding for women’s health a priority and to add providers in rural areas.”

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