Nurse-midwifery pathway returns to UAB

Photo of Sharon Holley

By Erica Techo

Continuing its mission to address nursing workforce needs and to improve health across all communities, the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing has announced the return of the nurse-midwifery specialty track in its Master of Science in Nursing program. It is the only nurse-midwifery pathway offered in the state, and one of only several offered in the southeastern U.S.

“This program, of course, helps address health care and workforce needs in the state. But the first goal of bringing back this program is to increase the workforce of nurse-midwives in Alabama in order to improve perinatal outcomes,” said MSN Nurse-Midwifery Pathway Director and Associate Professor Sharon Holley, DNP, MSN (MSN 1996). “Alabama has some of the worst perinatal outcomes in the country, and nurse-midwives are part of the solution.”

Restarting the nurse-midwifery program is an opportunity to grow a workforce of highly educated nurse-midwives who can improve access to care for underserved women of childbearing age and their infants, while expanding the advanced practice nursing offerings from the UAB School of Nursing, said Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Linda Moneyham, PhD, RN, FAAN.

“The UAB School of Nursing offers a number of nationally ranked graduate specialties that prepare nurses for advanced practice roles, but nurse-midwifery was always an important missing component to ensuring access to care for childbearing women,” Moneyham said. “Bringing this program back to UAB and Alabama is an important step toward improving the health of our communities and our region.”

“UAB and the UAB School of Nursing are recognized as health care leaders in the state, and we are excited to be on the forefront of nurse-midwifery education’s return to Alabama,” said Dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing Doreen C. Harper, PhD, RN, FAAN. “This marks progress toward improved care and health equity for women and children, not just for our community, but for the state of Alabama as a whole.”

The School will admit its first cohort of students to the nurse-midwifery track in fall 2022. Students will be equipped to manage the obstetrical and gynecological care that make up the reproductive health of women as well as the care of their infants in the first days of their life.

It is common for people to associate midwives strictly with pregnancy care and childbirth, however, Holley said it is important to remember that midwives are considered primary care providers who can improve women’s access to health care.

“This can include well woman care, pregnancy care, birth and postpartum,” Holley said. “We can also take care of newborns up to 28 days of life, which is important for our state because many women in Alabama do not have access to such care.”

The state of Alabama has one of the highest rates of adverse perinatal outcomes in the country, including low birth weight and preterm birth, according to data from the March of Dimes. Additionally, only one-third of the state is categorized as having adequate access to maternity care. Educating more nurse-midwives and preparing them for practice increases the number of care providers across the state, thereby improving access to and quality of women’s health care and pregnancy care.

“Nurse-midwives have a philosophy of ‘being with women’—that means we develop a relationship. We really listen to women. When we look at research, we know that women often times don’t feel heard,” Holley said. “The evidence shows that when nurse-midwives are part of the system of health care, not only do outcomes improve, but quality of care and quality of health improves. You also see a reduction in surgical interventions, such as cesarean sections. This is especially true for vulnerable or underserved populations.”

As a graduate of the first iteration of the School’s nurse-midwife program, Holley said it is exciting to see increased opportunities for nurse-midwives.

“There is a lot of excitement. I’m excited to have nurse-midwives receive their education at UAB, and I hope our graduates will stay and practice in the state and in the southeast. I have had people reach out from other states asking for more information about the program,” Holley said. “UAB and the School of Nursing are sending out a strong message about their commitment to improving maternal-child health in Alabama with the relaunch of the nurse-midwifery specialty track.”

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