Students and faculty in the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science (SNHES) at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) are partnering with Nurture NJ to tackle the state’s Black maternal and infant mortality crisis. First Lady of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy, officially launched Nurture NJ in early 2019 as a statewide initiative committed to equity in maternal and infant health outcomes for women of color. New Jersey’s mortality rates among Black, non-Hispanic women are nearly seven times greater than those of non-Hispanic white women–more than double the national average.
To address this crisis, TCNJ’s public health department will offer a course for aspiring doulas–helpers employed to support women giving birth–to expand advocacy for at-risk mothers and newborns throughout the state. Launching in summer 2022, the program will train students on the NJ Family Care doula registration process and Nurture NJ recommendations for succeeding in this field. Sonali Golpakrishnan, a TCNJ graduate student involved in developing the class, remarks, “Community-based doulas provide non-medical and emotional support, ensuring that mothers’ needs are heard before, during, and after birth. Doula involvement has shown to improve birth outcomes for mothers and babies.”
One professor spearheading this program, Ria Rodney, explains the importance of this track to strengthening equity in NJ: “Doulas are a lifeline in keeping families safe both at home and in the hospital… By offering a doula course, students will get hands-on healthcare experience very early in their liberal learning education, and be encouraged to provide an essential need to the community.”
Students and faculty from TCNJ’s public health department were first asked by the Nurture NJ to assist with the 2020 Black Maternal and Infant Health Leadership Summit. Assistant Professor of Public Health and co-developer of the new doula track, Dr. Natasha Patterson, describes the college’s role at this conference: “At the summit, students and faculty served as facilitators and note-takers. We were trained and provided with a draft of the Nurture NJ Strategic Plan, including a section for academic institutions outlining the role we can play to help address the devastating Black maternal and infant mortality rate in New Jersey.”
A public health student who volunteered at the summit, Salomine Ekambi, Class of 2022, adds, “This summit is essential for improving equity because it raises awareness of the experiences endured by women of color. It's a call for action…This work has enabled me to witness how different agencies and health systems interact to achieve a common goal.”
TCNJ’s School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science’s Dean Carole Kenner explains, “The school’s partnership with statewide initiatives to combat tragic maternal healthcare disparities empowers students to think critically beyond the classroom. Our faculty act as true mentors to students, involving them in efforts critical to achieving a more equitable society. This is what makes our public health program stand out.” TCNJ’s SNHES is the number two public health school in New Jersey.
TCNJ’s School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science educates aspiring health professionals to become future leaders across the healthcare industry. Faculty work closely with local healthcare partners to provide students with applicative skills and foundational knowledge. The nationally acclaimed school is dedicated to preparing individuals—through programs in nursing, public health, exercise science, and physical education teaching—for the many rewards of guiding people, communities, and populations toward improved health outcomes.
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