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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Diversifying Doulas: Patients R Waiting Initiative Addresses the Minority Maternal Mortality Crisis

Apr 30, 2021 09:31AM ● By Gisele Rinaldi Siebold
What began as a request to help recruit minority physicians to speak on a panel at Franklin & Marshall College (F&M), in Lancaster, has blossomed into an important initiative. Dr. Cherise Hamblin, F&M College alumna, Dr. Sharee Livingston, obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) department chair and Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald, known on social media as Dr. Every Woman, have come together to formalize Patients R Waiting (PRW).

Patients R Waiting is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating health disparities by increasing diversity in medicine. The organization’s three areas of focus include:
  • Increasing the pipeline of minority clinicians
  • Making the pipeline of minority clinicians less leaky
  • Supporting minority clinicians in practice

Hamblin is the founder and president of PRW. She is passionate about working with the next generation of physicians and has worked with advisors, students and community organizers on various mentoring and exposure programs. She is a full-time, board-certified OB-GYN who enjoys her role as a surgeon, delivering babies and caring for women of all ages.

Livingston serves as the OB-GYN UPMC Lititz department chair and is a member of the UPMC Lititz Board of Trustees. She is the highest-volume, female robotic surgeon in the county of Lancaster. Feeling compelled to do more, Livingston joined the PRW team and is helping to increase the pipeline for young scientists of color to reach their goals of becoming physicians.  

McDonald, M.D. and fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is a board-certified OB-GYN in Chicago, providing care to women of all ages for general wellness, fertility concerns, pregnancy and menopause. She is also an author, and the founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Gyneco-(b)Logic.

PRW is addressing the maternal mortality crisis in women of color by providing Lancaster Black and Latinx expectant moms with doula support. The health disparities experienced by women of color surrounding childbirth has been heightened by COVID-19.

“As an OB-GYN, I love to know that I do my best for my patients,” says Hamblin, “but when health disparities arise for women of color, which they frequently do, it is my goal to seek solutions advantaging women of color.”

Doulas can help to meet the emotional support needed during pregnancy, the birth process, and post-partum by providing care and education, virtually and in person. The scarcity of doulas of color in Lancaster is also being addressed by the doula training program, Diversifying Doulas Initiative (DDI).

The goals of the DDI include increasing access to doulas and recruiting women of color to receive formal doula training. Doulas have proven to provide many benefits to pregnant women, but they can often cost more than $1,200. Through this program, pregnant women who self-identify as black and Latina are given the opportunity to choose to receive the services of experienced doulas, free of charge. Benefits can include reduction in anxiety, lower rates of caesarean sections and much more.

“Too often, our society may provide help with a very paternalistic view,” she notes. “Part of our philosophy is that women of color can choose their own doula. We don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Because of the lack of diversity within doulas throughout Lancaster, PRW has provided women of color with the formal training necessary to become certified doulas. According to Hamblin, there was only one black doula in Lancaster County prior to June, 2020. Since then, there have been three groups of doula trainings; as a result, 35 women have been trained.

The training process was curated by doulas themselves, with support and funding provided by the Lancaster County Community Foundation, United Way of Lancaster County, UPMC Pinnacle Foundation, Gateway Health and the Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation.

“We don’t need to keep studying the problems; we need to start fixing them,” Hamblin believes. “Health disparities are not fixed by one person or one member of a team. They are fixed when systems and communities unite to make a difference in the lives of people of color.”

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