Rutgers celebrates 50 years of growing midwifery in the Garden State

July 5, 2024

Naja Damallie, a graduate of Rutgers School of Nursing, and Julie Blumenfeld, clinical assistant professor and midwifery program director at Rutgers School of Nursing

Rutgers graduate Naja Damallie (DNP, CNM, WHNP-BC) keeps track of the number of births she attends at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where she works as a certified nurse-midwife. Since October 2023, when she started at the teaching hospital, she has attended almost 80.

“I love this job,” said Damallie, beaming as she prepared to start another shift. “It doesn’t even feel like work.”

Damallie is one of hundreds of New Jersey midwives who’ve graduated over the past half-century from the midwifery education program at Rutgers School of Nursing. As health care providers, these Rutgers alumni work with women and birthing people, families and communities to provide care throughout the lifespan of their patients – from annual preventative visits to reproductive health care needs.

They also attend births – lots of them.

“Being there for a woman,” and “then to deliver their baby, it’s beautiful,” said Damallie, who was inspired to become a health care professional and follow in the footsteps of her late uncle, Earl Damallie, who earned his undergraduate and doctor of medicine degrees at Rutgers and was a board-certified surgeon. Damallie earned her bachelor’s in nursing at Rutgers School of Nursing (’16) and returned to complete her doctor of nursing practice degree with a dual specialization of nurse-midwifery and women’s health nurse practitioner (’23). “Rutgers wasn’t easy, but it opened the door to so much joy,” she said.

For five decades, the Rutgers nurse-midwifery program has been educating and training much of the state’s midwifery workforce. Since the late Teresa Marsico (CNM, MEd, FACNM), the program’s founder, was awarded a U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare grant on June 24, 1974, the midwifery program has expanded from humble beginnings – two staff and a dozen students – into a long-standing, well-established program that consistently graduates a diverse class of midwives reflective of the population of New Jersey.

Rutgers midwifery students earn either a master of science in nursing, post-master’s certificate, or doctorate in nursing practice – all of which prepare them to sit the exam for national certification by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). The school also offers a dual-track, nurse-midwife/women’s health nurse practitioner program.

Marsico was a midwifery pioneer who not only founded and led the Rutgers midwifery program for more than a quarter century but served as president of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), the professional organization for nurse-midwives in the United States. She was awarded the ACNM’s Lifetime Visionary Award, the college’s highest honor, for her exemplary contributions to the profession over her lifetime.

Subsequent directors have been equally impactful on the national and New Jersey midwifery landscape. Elaine Diegmann (CNM, ND, FACNM), a member of the program’s first class of graduates, joined the faculty in 1978 and succeeded Marsico as program director in 1990. As she led the continued development of the academic program, she founded midwifery practices at three Newark-area hospitals and attended more than 5,000 births. Diegmann, a recipient of ACNM’s Distinguished Service Award, retired as a tenured professor in 2016 after 38 years on the faculty. She was followed by program directors Joyce Hyatt (PhD, DNP, CNM, FACNM) and Ginette Lange (PhD, CNM, FNP), nurse-midwives who made impressive contributions to midwifery education and practice.

While 50 years of academic excellence makes for an outstanding legacy, there is still much to be done to advance the midwifery profession and expand access to midwifery care, said Julie Blumenfeld (DNP, CNM, FACNM, FAAN), clinical assistant professor and midwifery program director at Rutgers School of Nursing.

“I came to this program with very specific goals,” said Blumenfeld. “One was to provide excellent education for aspiring nurse-midwives, another was to grow and further diversify the midwifery workforce in New Jersey.”

New Jersey has close to 400 midwives practicing today and midwives attend 10 percent of all births in the state. Growing these numbers is a critical part of the state government’s strategy for improving pregnancy and birth outcomes and reducing racial disparities.

Support the Future of Nurse-Midwifery

Nurse-Midwifery education program faculty and students attend Rutgers School of Nursing’s networking and awards reception commemorating the program’s 50th anniversary. The May 2024 event celebrated the contributions of the late Teresa Marsico, the program’s founder; raised gifts to establish a new student scholarship fund; and recognized several outstanding midwifery alumni. View photos from the reception.

The Nurse-Midwifery program prepares diverse clinicians to overcome health inequities and improve maternal health outcomes in New Jersey. Your gift strengthens participation in the program through student scholarships. Donations can be made through the Rutgers Foundation.