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How One University in Kentucky is Preparing a New Generation of Midwives and Nurse Practitioners

What gets in the way of your nursing degree?

Obtaining a graduate degree in nursing can be a daunting prospect. Considerations of expense, time and potential relocation can make the very idea seem prohibitive, especially to nurses already practicing in rural areas or underserved communities. But, the world of nursing is changing.

Distance learning for nurses for almost 80 years​​​​​​​

Frontier Nursing University was founded in 1939 as a non-profit graduate school of nursing offering doctoral and master’s degrees through what is now called distance education. Even before the digital revolution, FNU was ahead of its time, sending assignments in manila envelopes and using phone trees to connect remote students. “We did distance education before it was even convenient,” says interim dean Joan Slager.

The campus itself is located in Kentucky, but the students, faculty and alumni are spread across all 50 states and multiple international locations. To date, more than 6,000 midwives, family nurse practitioners and mental health nurse practitioners have graduated from FNU.

A hybrid program with hands-on experience

A structured, off-campus program allows students to complete online coursework using collaborative and interactive formats. Once the online program is completed students begin their hands-on, patient-focused clinical hours in their own communities. They work with a certified nurse-midwife or a nurse practitioner in local hospitals and clinics.

The growing midwifery landscape in the US

There is currently a healthy demand for nurses with advanced degrees, and that’s good news for aspiring nurse practitioners. However, for aspiring midwives, things can be a bit trickier.

“In Great Britain and in other European countries midwifery is the standard of care,” Slager explains. “In this country, midwives have really struggled for a toehold, and that’s because in the 1940s and ‘50s birth moved from the home into the hospital. Women were told that pregnancy and childbearing was a risky, dangerous situation that was best managed in the hospital.”   

And yet, the pendulum always swings! Slager increasingly sees a grassroots acceptance of midwifery among young mothers who don’t want to be heavily medicated or sedated during birth. It seems midwifery may be slowly reclaiming its place as a practical choice for a healthy pregnancy.  And by combining a central academic structure with community-based clinical practice, FNU is offering greater access to doctoral and master’s degrees for midwives than ever before.

Nursing and midwifery are said to be both passion-driven careers, and very often they put the needs of others before their own. But passion and commitment deserve to be rewarded. Sometimes investing in yourself yields the greatest rewards of all.

Michael Flocker, [email protected]

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