Jenny Foster, CNM, MPH, PhD, FACNM
Candidate for Region III Representative
See Jenny's CV here
Question: What challenges to midwifery practice have you observed/experienced either nationally or in your region and what solutions would you suggest or implement to eliminate that challenge to midwifery practice?
Answer: I have been a midwife and life member of ACNM since 1982. I went to midwifery school at the University of Mississippi. The goal of that federally funded program was to educate midwives to work in underserved areas of the Southeast, where there was a tremendous shortage of obstetric services, particularly in rural areas. Over 30 years later, this challenge still exists, and perhaps is exacerbated. Despite more midwives than ever before, rural hospitals have not expanded midwifery services sufficiently.
Currently, I am a faculty member at Emory University. Emory has the only midwifery education program in Georgia, and with the closing of schools in Florida and South Carolina, there are fewer midwives graduating in the Southeast. As rural hospitals close their labor and delivery units, women have to travel farther to receive basic prenatal and delivery care. The women who are most affected are disproportionately poor and Black, and we know that as a group, their reproductive health outcomes are worse than those of white mothers. Yet we know midwifery has a positive impact.
I believe there are 2 key approaches to address this challenge: educational infrastructure, and cultural transformation. Education programs must partner with hospitals to provide tangible, financial (or in-kind) incentives, so that more clinical preceptors in rural areas will take midwifery students and encourage them to stay in that area for a minimum of 2 years after graduation. The cultural challenge is to diversify the midwifery workforce, as well as foster a more inclusive ACNM. This is actively being addressed at ACNM, by means of the Diversification and Inclusion Task Force on which I serve.
Candidate Interview with ACNM Student Representative
Tell us in 1-2 sentences why you want to serve on the board.
I served on the ACNM Diversification and Inclusion Task Force from 2012-2015. The work on the Task Force opened my eyes to view both our profession and professional organization through a diversity lens. The Task Force has been laid down, but I see that I can make a contribution to the board by being a voice to continue to build diversity in our organization and in our profession.
Why do you think you are a good fit for the role of Region Representative?
My midwifery practice has always been dedicated to the care of women at socioeconomic disadvantage – women from rural Mississippi and Molokai, Hawaii, to urban Spanish speaking women in Holyoke, Massachusetts and Atlanta, Georgia. I also have experience globally working with nurses and midwives working in areas of great poverty, such as Guatemala, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Chile. In addition to nursing and midwifery, I have a master’s degree in public health and a PhD in cultural anthropology. At Emory, I teach a master’s level course for midwives and other nurse practitioner students on developing cultural humility. What began years ago as a course on cultural competence has transformed to a course that examines both one’s own biases, as well as the structural patterns in healthcare that have perpetuated social inequality and health disparities. Students are asked to explore compassionate and thoughtful leadership-for-change to promote genuine health equity for all.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I have a quiet, facilitative leadership style. I tend to listen, reflect back what I hear, and build consensus by articulating what I have heard. I do not have a loud voice, but when I speak, a lot of thought has gone into it. I am good at building trust and confidence within team members when in the lead. But also I don’t need to be in the lead all the time, I know how to be a good team player, too and let others take the lead.
What do you consider the greatest priority in your region, and how would you specifically engage with your region if elected?
While the southeast region, Region III, shares some of the same challenges as all the other regions (such as community hospitals closing, huge unmet need for clinical preceptors, and midwifery burnout by relentless clinical hours), Region III has specific additional challenges, too. The southeast continues to have some of the highest racial disparities in both infant and maternal mortality in the country. Meanwhile, there are fewer midwifery education programs than in the past, considering the vast land mass which is the southeast USA. Also, large numbers of OB-GYN docs are retiring, there are not enough midwifery practices in the rural areas, and with hospital closures, increasingly, women have to go huge distances for care.
If I were elected, I would communicate both virtually and face to face with affiliate leaders, midwifery education programs, and individual practices to listen to their ideas. I would also network with other professional colleagues in the area working on the shortage of providers to care for women. I would work to facilitate synergies wherever possible, to advance midwifery overall but especially to support midwives in the southeast.
What do you see as ACNM’s greatest current challenge? What strategies would you advocate for ACNM to address this challenge?
As I mentioned in the beginning, I believe diversification and inclusion is the biggest challenge. I believe there has been a strong momentum building to address this, but keeping the momentum going will be crucial for success. The most important strategy to address maintaining momentum is to keep listening to all midwives, and to encourage everyone to see that they can make a contribution to the transformation of midwifery as a much more multicultural profession. It is not other midwives work, it is all our work, and everyone can make a difference. I think midwifery education programs need to work on the pipeline into midwifery, which calls for creative linkages with schools and mentoring students into midwifery.
How do you envision this position on the Board enhancing your own skills?
While I have served on the board of a few non-profit organizations before, I do not have experience serving on a board with the size and national scope of the ACNM. I expect I will learn much more about the process of making policy decisions on the board, as well as how to communicate with membership about the workings of the board.