March is Women’s History Month. During this time, we aim to celebrate and recognize women’s achievements in history, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality.
This month Frontier Nursing University (FNU) will highlight a few female leaders at FNU in Q&A style blogs. The first person we want to spotlight is Dr. Anne Cockerham, PhD, CNM, WHNP-BC, CNE, FACNM, FNU Professor and Course Coordinator, whose scholarly focus is on nursing history.
Both midwifery and nursing are professions in which women have been at the forefront, including many women who are associated with the history of FNU.
FNU’s rich history begins with the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) which resulted in remarkable outcomes as these nurse-midwives served the people of eastern Kentucky. This work drastically reduced maternal and infant mortality, included widespread implementation of extensive public health interventions such as sanitation and vaccinations, and the provision of primary and inpatient health care to thousands of people who previously had little access to care.
While we want to celebrate the achievements and perseverance of those who pioneered midwifery in the United States, we should also acknowledge and be aware of any wrongdoing and harmful thinking and actions by them.
“Now, I think the time is right for us to reexamine our history with a careful eye toward identifying any harms that have been done, inequities that have been perpetuated, privilege that has been afforded to some but not all, and opportunities that have been lost,” Dr. Cockerham said. “In other words, I’m glad that historians and those interested in history are moving beyond unquestioning celebration of accomplishments and toward a more nuanced examination of the past.”
Dr. Cockerham believes the most enduring legacy of the FNS is the school that began in 1939 and continues to be in operation today as FNU.
“The large number of well-prepared midwives who come from the FNU program, particularly since the beginning of the distance learning program in 1989, has dramatically increased the nurse-midwifery workforce in the United States,” Dr. Cockerham said. “I’m so proud to be a graduate of the program and now a long-time faculty member!”
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we asked Dr. Cockerham a series of questions in hopes of inspiring and empowering all people to continue to work towards equality and raising awareness of the bias women face or have faced.
Women’s History Month Q&A with Dr. Cockerham:
- What advice would you give to women in your field (midwifery/nursing/healthcare)?
Midwifery and nursing are dominated by women so I think it’s particularly important to seek out, respect, and celebrate differences. Diversity of all kinds enriches us and can make midwifery and nursing even stronger.
- Tell us about a woman you look up to and why.
There are so many folks who are so inspiring that it’s difficult to choose just one. But one woman who comes immediately to mind is Angela Smith, the Executive Director of the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME). I serve as the ACME chairperson, so I have the great privilege of watching Angela’s work up close. She started in the ACME Executive Director role in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she has gracefully and skillfully navigated the many challenges ACME has faced (along with the rest of the world). Angela is the epitome of equanimity. She is unfailingly professional and utterly unflappable. She is kind, caring, and optimistic, yet realistic. She builds collegial relationships and always keeps her eye on the long-term plan. I learn from her every day and I’m so grateful to work with her.
- Do you have a favorite quote about female empowerment or from a female influencer?
In my role as a teacher, I find Dr. Cate Denial’s work to be powerful. Although I have always gravitated toward a certain approach to teaching, Dr. Denial’s description of the Pedagogy of Kindness has helped me put words to what is in my heart as a teacher. Here’s a quote from Dr. Denial:
Kindness as pedagogical practice is not about sacrificing myself, or about taking on more emotional labor. It has simplified my teaching, not complicated it…I’ve found that kindness as pedagogical practice distills down to two simple things: believing people, and believing in people…A pedagogy of kindness asks us to apply compassion in every situation we can, and not to default to suspicion or anger. When suspicion or anger is our first response, a pedagogy of kindness asks us to step back and do the reflective work of asking why we’re reacting in that manner.
- Is there anything else you would like to share to empower women or encourage people to create change that positively impacts women?
In our work as midwives, WHNPs, and educators, I think one of our most important goals should be to work to make pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period safe for ALL birthing people. This work includes being humble and listening to members of communities that have been historically marginalized. It includes welcoming folks into the profession who represent the communities they serve, and then humbly asking how we can support their success. It includes acknowledging and mitigating the harms that we have perpetuated on individuals and communities. It includes learning and learning some more, until all birthing folks are safe and satisfied with their care.
We thank Dr. Cockerham for her work in midwifery, education and nursing history. Dr. Cockerham is an FNU alumni (CNEP class 27, graduated in 2001) and has been a faculty member since 2009. She has cared for patients in private midwifery and midwifery and physician practices, a military hospital, Planned Parenthood, and a Free Clinic.
Dr. Cockerham is the author of two award-winning books that celebrate the history of the Frontier Nursing Service: Rooted in the Mountains, Reaching to the World: Stories of Nursing and Midwifery at Kentucky’s Frontier School, 1939-1989, published in 2012, and Unbridled Service: Growing Up and Giving Back as a Frontier Nursing Service Courier, 1928-2010, published in 2014.