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UTHSC College of Nursing Garners $4 Million to Expand Support for Midwifery in the Delta

Nurse-Midwifery students practice suturing during one of their on-campus days at UTHSC.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing has received a four-year, $4 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to support increasing the number and diversity of nurse midwives in the Delta region.

The college launched a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) concentration in Nurse Midwifery in 2021, with the goal of improving health outcomes for pregnant women and their babies. Now in its third year, the program has 21 students and will graduate its first cohort of six students in May, 2024. The HRSA grant, which began Sept. 30, 2023, will provide stipends to educate 12-14 nurse midwifery students annually. It will also allow an expansion of clinical learning sites.

Dr. Kate Fouquier

“The impact of this grant is that, for the first time ever, the money will be available for us to develop community partnerships for midwifery education in rural and underserved areas,” said Professor Kate Fouquier, PhD, CNM, FACNM, principal investigator for the grant and coordinator of the DNP in Nurse Midwifery. “Developing community partnerships with providers in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi will give us the capacity to educate more midwives and to reduce the mortality of mothers and babies.”

In 2020, the maternal mortality rate in Tennessee was 58.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the 2022 Report to the Tennessee General Assembly from the Tennessee Department of Health on Family Health and Wellness. This is much higher than the national maternal mortality rate for 2020 of 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Tennessee, more than three out of four of those maternal deaths were considered preventable. Residents in 35 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have no access to maternity care, according to the 2022 March of Dimes report on maternity-care deserts.

The HRSA grant will enable the college’s Nurse-Midwifery program to expand its partnerships to include the following institutions as clinical learning sites: the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.; Professional Care Services, which operates clinics in rural West Tennessee; Baptist Memorial Health Care, which operates hospitals throughout the Delta; the Shelby County Health Department; and the UTHSC Nursing Mobile Health Unit, which serves patients in Lake and Lauderdale counties. The college will continue partnering with the midwifery practice at Regional One Health.

More than 70% of the grant’s funding annually will be applied to student training costs. The remaining funds will be used in developing those vital clinical partnerships. Fifty-one percent of each student’s clinical hours must be completed with a nurse-midwife, and each student is required to complete 1,140 clinical hours in the program.

Co-investigators on the grant include Professor Sarah Rhoads, PhD, DNP, FAAN; Associate Professor Rhonda Johnson, DNP, CNM, FACNM; and Instructor Meghan Madea, MSN.

“We are excited to expand health care access for underserved and rural populations with the addition of midwifery services through this grant,” said Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, FAANP. “UTHSC and the College of Nursing are striving to lead changes to improve health outcomes in communities throughout Tennessee and the region. These funds are instrumental in achieving this goal.”

Nurse-Midwifery student Miranda Smith, BSN, said the grant increases students’ opportunities to serve rural communities. Nurse-Midwifery students can face travel time of up to eight hours for clinical placements – a challenge similar to that of rural residents seeking maternal care in maternal health care deserts, she said.

“Receiving the HRSA grant is a significant opportunity for Nurse-Midwifery cohorts,” Smith said. “It opens the door for me to work in rural communities, create essential maternal health care education platforms and advance my education.”

The Blessing of the Hands is a ceremony that marks the milestone of nurse midwifery students when they transition from classroom education to clinical education.

The UTHSC DNP program is ranked No. 23 in the nation on the Best Graduate Schools list of U.S. News & World Report and offers eight practice concentrations and three dual practice concentrations.

The nurse midwifery DNP concentration at UTHSC provides the registered nurse with the specialized knowledge and skills to offer family-centered primary care. In addition to pregnancy and childbirth care, services provided by nurse-midwives include primary care, annual gynecology wellness visits, family planning, and fertility and newborn care during the first 28 days of life.