Resilience, Community Support Push Midwifery Student toward Goal after Tragedy

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Alison Doyle looks through a microscope as she studies nurse midwifery. UTHSC’s College of Nursing is the only public college in Tennessee that offers a Nurse-Midwifery program.

Empowering.

That is how Alison Doyle describes the care she received from a midwife during her first pregnancy at age 20. “She was really compassionate and caring and encouraged us to read books about childbirth and research all the recommendations she made,” Doyle said. “I wanted everyone to be treated this way.”

National Midwifery Week is October 2-8. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing is the only public college in Tennessee that offers a Nurse-Midwifery program.

Now 33, Doyle is a mother of four, a registered nurse, and a student in her second year of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program for Nurse Midwifery at the UTHSC College of Nursing.

That’s impressive, but it becomes remarkable when you consider the fact that a fire caused by lightning destroyed the Doyles’ home and claimed most of their possessions on April 5. Doyle credits the support of her husband, Daniel, the Oxford, Mississippi, community, and the UTHSC community for enabling her to continue working toward her goal of being a certified nurse midwife.

The Doyle family fled the fire with just their jackets and Doyle’s school backpack containing her computer. Her in-laws were visiting for the first time in three years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to see the oldest child in a school play. Thankfully, everyone escaped to safety. But the family minivan parked on the carport exploded. The SUV that Doyle frantically drove down to the street survived. The Doyle family includes Alison and Daniel and their children Sophia, 12, Bailey, 10, Quinn, 8, and Odin, 6, and the family dog.

Alison Doyle poses with her husband and their four children.
Alison Doyle and her husband, Daniel, and their children, Sophia, 12, Bailey, 10, Quinn, 8, and Odin, 6.

“There has just been a tremendous outpouring from the community. We have been here almost 12 years, and people have flooded us with love and support and kindness,” Doyle said. Neighbors bagged up their clothing and washed it until the clothes didn’t smell like smoke anymore. Dinners were provided for the family for weeks. A friend who had an Airbnb opened it to the Doyle family until they could find a house to rent. It will probably be a year before their home is restored and they can return, she said.

Some people might consider taking a semester off when faced with such a challenge, but not Doyle. One of the first people she called after the fire was Professor Kate Fouquier, PhD, RN, FACNM, who directs the Nurse Midwifery concentration at UTHSC. She wanted to let Dr. Fouquier know she might be delayed in some of her assignments. The college sent Doyle new scrubs as soon as she had an address, loaned her books and gave her extensions on her school projects. The staff also told her about the UTHSC Emergency Fund, which provided some financial assistance, as well.

“Alison has a wonderful community support system, she received tremendous support from her student midwifery peers, and with the added support of the College of Nursing, Alison has been able to be successful in her studies,” Dr. Fouquier said.  “Her persistence in reaching her goal of becoming a nurse-midwife is inspiring and speaks to her character. She never gave up!”

Part of Doyle’s motivation is to be there for the next mother seeking care from a nurse midwife. “I have been able to support so many families as a doula, a friend, and a lactation consultant over the years. And I have had so many women say to me, ‘Maybe for the next baby you will be done with school, and you can deliver my baby.’ That is the best compliment a woman or a family can pay me is to invite me into their lives at this most intimate time.”

Doyle’s education is paid for through a grant to the college from the Health Resources and Services Administration titled “Advanced Nursing Education Workforce for Health Moms and Babies,” which has the goal of improving health care for underserved and rural populations in the Delta. 

“Not only do I want to accomplish this dream and goal I have worked on for many years. . .but I just think about all those families and all those who supported me through the years, and I want to get to the place where I can help them and have the skills and education that I need so I can help them the most,” she said. “I really just want to put some education in peoples’ hands and for them to feel respected and empowered going into the journey of parenthood.”