Message from Kitty Ernst

Kitty Ernst, Mary Breckinridge ChairI learned that midwifery was not obstetrics at the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS), six decades ago, from the nursemidwives attending the birth of a strong mountain woman, in her simple home surroundings, taking full responsibility for her birth. I realized then that midwifery was not only not the same as obstetrics but that it was an essential missing component in our plan for the care of women and childbearing families. I have spent the better part of my life since that “ah ha” experience working to bring the services of nurse-midwives into the mainstream of healthcare delivery. When I completed my midwifery education, there were only three identifiable services employing nurse-midwives: FNS in Kentucky, Maternity Center Association in New York and the Catholic Maternity Institute in New Mexico. Although there are over 2,000 practice sites and 6,000 members presently listed by the American College of Nurse-Midwives, it is estimated that we need to educate 30,000 new midwives in the next two decades if we are to be part of the solution for meeting the challenges we face in delivering affordable, quality healthcare to all of our citizens. This is a critical role for Frontier, a role that will carry the mission of Mary Breckinridge to the ever widening neighborhoods of unmet human need.

Today, "evidence-based practice" is the professional and legislative platform on which affordable, quality care for all our people is being built. That growing body of evidence is supporting a team approach to care that includes not only collaboration between midwifery and obstetrics, but advanced practice nursing and medicine in general. Nursing, for some time, has been gearing up to help meet the primary care needs of a growing and diverse population. Frontier continues to contribute to this need by educating growing numbers of family nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives together and balancing the enrollment in midwifery and family nursing education so that they learn how best to work together on the healthcare team.

If we cannot produce the nurse-midwives and family nurses, we cannot be part of the solution to provide the quality, affordable, primary care needed by all women and childbearing families.

But the Frontier Nursing Service has never been just about midwifery or the care of the mother in childbirth. In the only known recording of the voice of Mary Breckinridge, from a 1963 radio interview, she clearly and concisely states her mission for the service plan:

"... the focus of everything (sh)ould be on the life of the young child ... now the young child is not alone ... In the first place you’ve got to conserve his mother before he is born ... you’ve got to see him safely through childbirth ... Then what is the use of taking care of him in the early years of life – which are all important to his health, to his emotional life and his loving heart ... what is the use of taking care of him if you let his father die of appendicitis? You’ve got to have a hospital and a surgeon within reach to save the life of his father ... The child is also a part of a neighborhood ... you’ve got to clean up the neighborhood ... diphtheria, typhoid ... worms ... You can’t let a child suffer from harm in his neighborhood ... If you focus on the child, you find it leads you into broad, preventive, public health programs – into families - and every kind of situation."

This continues to be Frontier’s wide neighborhoods mission. Will you help us grow to fulfill it?

Kitty Ernst

Kitty Ernst
Mary Breckinridge Chair

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." - Helen Keller


Did you know that you can honor Kitty by making a donation to the Kitty Ernst Chair of Midwifery? For more information about the Chair and how you can help please click HERE