Faculty member helps launch Rwanda’s first master’s in midwifery program
By Deborah Ziff Soriano
UIC Nursing visiting instructor Pamela Meharry first arrived in Rwanda in 2015, part of an ambitious initiative to train the health care workforce in the post-genocide country in east Africa.
She was there to co-teach in the newly created Bachelor of Science in midwifery program at the University of Rwanda.
But in a short time, Meharry saw a need for more than a bachelor’s program, envisioning an advanced degree where midwifery leaders could be cultivated on Rwandan soil.
“The midwives I taught with had either gone abroad to Australia, Canada, Scotland, South Africa or Uganda for their midwifery master’s degree, or completed a master’s program in another discipline,” she said. “When I first started talking about a master’s in midwifery, [my colleagues] said, ‘You’ll have 50 people signed up on day one to join that class. So many midwives wanted to do it, but there was no program.”
Following years of planning with other stakeholders, Meharry’ s vision will become a reality in April, when the inaugural class of students will begin in the Master of Science in midwifery program at the University of Rwanda.
Reducing mortality rates
UIC Nursing hired Meharry, who was working in Connecticut as a midwife and instructor, to travel to Rwanda under the banner of the Human Resources for Health Program, the largest U.S. academic global health consortium to date.
During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, an estimated 800,000 people were killed, and the small nation faced a severe shortage of qualified physicians, nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers. UIC Nursing was one of five U.S. nursing schools selected to participate in the program.
Meharry was paired with the head of the midwifery department and co-taught bachelor’s and master’s degree students in the neonatal nursing program, but she observed that a master’s in midwifery program was also sorely needed to develop teachers and leaders.
There were eight other master’s degree programs in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Rwanda, though none that specialized in midwifery or women’s health.
She added that midwives are considered vital assets in the global effort to lower maternal and infant mortality rates. In Rwanda, those rates have decreased significantly over the last 20 years, but there is more work to be done to reach U.N. Sustainable Development Goals by the benchmark year of 2030, she said.
UIC Nursing shares curriculum
With permission from her Rwandan department head to begin pulling together a curriculum, Meharry contacted UIC Nursing’s then-associate dean for global health Linda McCreary and nurse-midwifery program director Carrie Klima Those colleagues shared with her the UIC DNP nurse-midwifery curriculum, giving her a strong basis from which to develop a curriculum appropriate for a new master’s program at the University of Rwanda.
Meharry was involved in curriculum development even as she conducted a Fulbright teaching and research grant in Zimbabwe in 2019 and 2020. The new master’s program was approved in November 2021.
Meharry said this will open doors for midwives.
“At the master’s level, well-trained midwives [can] assume a leadership role in training midwives, increasing competencies and critical decision-making skills, stimulating research and publications, and integrating more evidence-based practice into health facilities,” Meharry said.