Mary Breckinridge’s Nursing Education Legacy: Rural Midwifery

Mary Breckinridge, like Florence Nightingale, created an educational legacy that is still in place today.

After her education, Breckinridge searched for a way to apply her public health knowledge, especially in the benefit of women and children. She discovered a need for prenatal care, and safe labor and delivery in rural areas. Her efforts, which were extensive, resulted in drastically improved maternal and infant mortality rates, as well as overall better health outcomes in general.

Breckinridge founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in 1925 to address the healthcare needs of one of America’s poorest and most isolated regions, the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Staff of the FNS went on to start the American Association of Nurse-Midwives, the first American School of midwifery.

Breckinridge was the organizer, fundraiser, and advocate for the FNS, staffing it with nurse midwives from England, raising $6 million to support the organization, and traveling into rural areas on horseback and on foot to reach patients. Care was provided to all families, regardless of ability to pay. As a result, in its first 50 years, the FNS delivered more than 17,000 babies with only 11 maternal deaths.

Breckinridge is recognized as the first caregiver to bring nurse-midwifery to the United States. The FNS still serves southeastern Kentucky. The organization is comprised of a hospital in Hyden, KY; four rural health clinics, a home health agency, and the FNS School of Midwifery and Family Nursing.

Mary Breckinridge was the first nurse and nurse midwife to take healthcare into rural areas. She saw a need for healthcare services in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, and she filled it. Her dedication is something that nurses and nurse educators emulate to this day.

Today, nurse-midwives provide primary and gynecologic care to women as well as specialty care and support for expectant mothers.

Benefits of Simulation in Midwifery

    1. Demonstrates level-appropriate clinical judgement and decision making.
    2. Allows students to practice within their role and scope.
    3. Fosters interactions across programs.

Pocket Nurse supports obstetric skills that are also relevant to nurse-midwives with a number of OB/Pediatric simulation products, including birthing simulators and ultrasound machines.

Pocket Nurse and Women's History Month

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