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Interview With Kitty Ernst, CNM, MPH, DSc (Hon.) ACNM President 1961–1963

What should be the goals for the profession in the next 50 years?

As for goals, mine has always been simply to “make midwives” and to imbue them with the entrepreneurial spirit of Mary Breckinridge. I get distressed every time I learn that her autobiography is not required reading in all education programs. When I look at Pennsylvania today, I see almost 200 midwifery sites and a half dozen birth centers. When I came here forty years ago there was zip. You can't make midwifery part of the system until you have the midwives to do it. We need making midwives and a place for them to practice to be our first priority. We also need to recognize that “with woman” is quite different from “assisting an obstetrician.” I don't think we emphasize this enough. When it gets lost, it is too easy to focus on “being as good as” instead of “being different from.” Nurse-midwifery, in the vernacular of business, is a new product line in America and it has to be explained to be sold. This is a tough and continuous job. We need to watch out for being compromised into “obstetrical assistants” as has happened in many parts of Europe. I often wonder where we would be now if midwives had started birth centers instead of being seduced into the acute care setting which will always be controlled by medicine (and rightly so for it is a place for sick people). I had hoped that all students would attend NACC workshops because it is there that they will see and learn about midwifery. Birth centers have made midwifery visible and encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit of the profession. If we lose this “place dedicated to the practice of midwifery” and a viable alternative to the medical model of birth, it will represent a great setback for all of midwifery.

(Interview July 11, 2004)