Eunice K. M. Ernst, RN, CNM, MPH, DSc (HON) – Frontier Nursing University – Mary Breckinridge Chair of Midwifery
For half a century, Kitty Ernst has been a pioneer in both the field of midwifery and in developing the best care possible for families in pregnancy and birth. Kitty has been a permanent leader in the nurse-midwifery profession since graduating from the Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery in 1951. Kitty has graciously shared her personal story, her passion, and her vision with every single class of incoming Frontier Nursing University students since the inception of the distance program in 1989. Her experience as a Frontier student — attending the home birth of a strong mountain woman — forever changed her view of birth and the potential role of nurse-midwives in the natural birth process. After practicing as a nurse-midwife, Kitty turned her attention to advocating for nurse-midwives to play an important and respected role in our society’s health care system, a pursuit she continues to this day.
While starting her own family, she began working as a parent educator, teaching some of the first childbirth education groups of the International Childbirth Education Association. As a field consultant for the Maternity Center Association, she developed a family-centered maternity care provided by an obstetrician nurse-midwife team at the Salvation Army Booth Maternity Center in Philadelphia. She designed a project to develop and evaluate a program of Self-Care/Self-Help Education Initiated in Childbirth, and assisted in planning and implementation of the demonstration Childbearing Center at Childbirth Connection. She was also the co-founder of the National Association of Childbearing Centers. As Director of the National Association of Childbearing Centers, she continued to be a leader in the effort to bring birth centers into the mainstream of health care delivery and helped to institute the Commission for Accreditation of Freestanding Birth Centers.
During the 1980s, Ms. Ernst became concerned about two issues: the small number of nurse-midwives being educated each year, and the fact that the majority of nurse-midwives being educated in large tertiary care centers had a lack of out-of-hospital experience. To address these issues, she led the design and implementation of the first distance education program for nurse-midwives, which was adopted by the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing and has grown to the present-day Frontier Nursing University.