If you know anything about Frontier Nursing University (FNU), you’ve likely heard of Kitty Ernst, FACNM, BS Ed, MPH, DSc (hon)! Kitty has been a part of the FNU community since she first began her career as a midwife in 1951 with the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS). Now, as a member of FNU’s Board of Directors, Kitty’s work is focused on educating more midwives so that all women can have access to safe healthcare.
Ernst chose to work for FNS because she was inspired by the work of founder Mary Breckinridge, who pioneered a workable, affordable system of birth and health care for mothers and families in the least accessible and most impoverished mountains of Southeast Kentucky. Not only did Mary Breckinridge lead Kitty to FNS, but she also led her down the path of midwifery.
Although Kitty is now hailed as one of the United State’s greatest proponents of midwifery education, her path to midwifery wasn’t straightforward. It wasn’t until she experienced the home birth of a strong mountain woman during her time as a student at FNS that Kitty realized how important midwifery is for the health of women and families. The work of Mary Breckinridge inspired her and helped her see the valuable role midwifery plays in the health of families.
Because the midwives trained by Mary Breckinridge were able to have such a great impact on their community in Kentucky, Kitty knew that educating new nurse-midwives was essential to transforming health care not only for mothers, but for their families as well.
“All health care begins with the care and education of the mother,” said Kitty, quoting one of the key beliefs of Frontier Nursing Service.
After serving as a nurse-midwife for several years, Kitty began to advocate for nurse-midwives to have a strong role in American healthcare, something she continues to do today. Over the course of her career, she has published valuable information defining the role of a nurse-midwife and even played a crucial role in the first accreditation of nurse-midwife programs in the U.S.
Since Ernst’s work has been dedicated to midwifery, a path she only pursued because of Mary Breckinridge’s influence on her life, it makes sense why she currently holds a position of FNU’s Board of Directors. As Mary Breckinridge Chair of Midwifery at FNU, she is able to help promote the education of nurse-midwives at Frontier who will bring safe maternal healthcare to their patients.
There are so many enjoyable parts of her job that Ernst finds it hard to choose one favorite. She has enjoyed seeing the growth and expansion of FNU over the years while still keeping tuition affordable. What is even more gratifying, however, is seeing how the dedication of faculty, staff and leaders at FNU enables students to master nursing skills, pass their certifying exams, and eventually go on to work in rural and underserved areas just as Mary Breckinridge did.
Kitty is revered not only by FNU, but by other institutions as well. Each year, the American College of Nurse-Midwives presents the Kitty Ernst Award to a midwife or women’s health care professional who has demonstrated creativity and innovation in their field.
FNU is thankful for Kitty and her long legacy of promoting midwifery education in the United States!