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Awe at birth never dims for Rutgers midwife

The sound of every baby’s first cry, even after she’s heard about 5,000 of them, brings joy to certified nurse midwife Elaine K. Diegmann, CNM, ND, FACNM, MEG.

“My eyes are the first to see and my hands the first to touch thousands of babies,” said Diegmann, professor and director of the nurse midwifery program at Rutgers University School of Nursing, Newark, N.J.

Diegmann said she felt a calling during her first obstetrics rotation as a nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia during the 1950s.

“When I saw my first birth, I had such a feeling of euphoria and knew how I would spend the rest of my life,” she said.

Working at her first job in labor and delivery at what is now Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., she met a certified nurse midwife and decided to go back to school so she could assist women with birth, breast-feeding and parenting. She was part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s first midwifery class, graduating in 1976. Rutgers and UMDNJ merged in 2013.

“I graduated from [the program] and now I run it,” she said with a laugh.

In 2014, Diegmann received a Lester Z. Lieberman Humanism in Healthcare Award from The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, which mentioned her work directing the only midwifery program in New Jersey; her ability to “imbue her students with a passion for providing excellent, compassionate care to all patients and to treat each with respect and dignity — values that she herself demonstrates so ably;” her development of three nurse midwifery practices in Newark, serving low-income people; and her advocacy for normal birth and patient-centered care.

Susan Salmond, EdD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, executive vice dean at Rutgers, praised Diegmann’s clinical expertise; ability to connect and share her enthusiasm with students, and skill at moving the program from a post-baccalaureate certificate to a master’s to soon a DNP program.

“She clearly has a phenomenal passion for midwifery and what she does and has been an advocate for midwifery and midwifery education,” Salmond said. “She has made tremendous differences in the lives of the students and the clients she has served. It’s impressive.”

While she enjoys teaching new midwives, Diegmann said she could not survive without continuing to deliver babies, so she practices at Newark (N.J.) Beth Israel Medical Center. She describes delivering her two grandsons, who are now 11 and 9, as thrilling and the highlight of her life.

Diegmann expects a bright future for midwifery and said the U.S. could improve its poor infant mortality rate, which is 24th among nations in the industrial world, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2013 Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality.

“We must use midwifery for primary caregiver for women,” she said. “Countries that are far above us have midwives as their primary care.”

With the Affordable Care Act placing an emphasis on wellness and cost effectiveness of care, Diegmann said the time for change is now. Midwives attend about 7.9% of births in the United States, according to the National Vital Statistics Reports’ “Births: Final Data for 2012,” and 6.5% in New Jersey, Diegmann said.

“It is one of the few times in healthcare where it is a beautiful, wonderful outcome, most of the time,” Diegmann said. “You bring a new life into the world.”

At age 77, Diegmann said she has no plans to retire.

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to spend my whole life doing something I love,” Diegmann said. “When I hear the sound of my patient ready to deliver, my step quickens, my heart beat goes up, and it’s the same as the first time I received a baby. It’s the greatest high in the world. I am so blessed.”

Debra Anscombe Wood, RN, is a freelance writer.

By | 2015-01-09T00:00:00-05:00 January 9th, 2015|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|0 Comments

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