Honors Legacy Grant Enables UA Nursing Student's Interest in Natural Childbirth

Feb. 7, 2019

BSN student Hannah Garis Copley decided to pursue a career in nursing to help people, but during the course of her studies, she zeroed in a particularly vulnerable population: infants. Slated to graduate in fall 2019, she recently received an Honors Legacy Grant from the UA Honors College to fund her training for doula certification.

Doulas, trained professionals who provide guidance and support to pregnant women during labor, act as advocates and partners in the birthing process in ways that other members of the healthcare team are not equipped to do. They assist a woman before, during, or after childbirth, to provide emotional support and physical help. They also may provide support to the mother's partner and family. 

“I am super lucky to have the Honors Legacy Grant to fund my doula certification. It was a blessing to have the opportunity to get hands-on training and books that I needed, and to spend time with amazing doulas and people who do great things in the birth base in Arizona." ~ Hannah Garis Copley, UA College of Nursing BSN Student 

Not only will Copley’s project help clarify the role of doulas in the health care system, but it will aid in making the College’s undergraduate honors thesis options more hands-on with engaged learning opportunities.  "Hannah Copley is the perfect nursing student to help the College of Nursing develop new and innovative pathways for undergraduate honors projects at the College of Nursing,” says UA Nursing senior lecturer Lisa Kiser, CNM, WHNP. “She is deeply interested in maternal and child health and wanted to complete an honors project that actively helped her develop her skills and experience in maternal health, while also serving our community.” 

Hannah Garis Copley

Copley’s interest in becoming a certified doula grew from her awareness of the high infant mortality rate in the U.S. – especially among women of color. “I wanted to find a way to help change that,” she says. “There’s been a lot of really promising research that talks about how doulas are one way to help change the model of maternity care in the U.S. I wanted to be boots on the ground, helping to solve the problem.”

Typically, OB training does not address the ways that doulas and nurses complement one another during the birthing process. Many times, Copley says, that lack of understanding can lead to an adversarial relationship. She hopes to change that with her thesis. “I wanted to look into ways that we can integrate the process of the work of nurses and doulas and the ways responsibility would have to be ceded to one another and ways to collaborate better,” she says.

One difference between nurses and doulas is that doulas are present for the entire birthing process. “That’s not always a luxury we have as nurses,” says Copley. “You have 12-hour shifts and you’ve got to go home. With doulas, there’s a level of emotional support and knowledge having the background knowledge of your client, knowing their desires and their communication style that makes doulas uniquely wonderful advocates and partners for the woman in labor.”

To complete her doula training, Copley worked with a local doula trainer for 30 hours, doing hands-on exercises with an emphasis on alternative pain control methods like massage and counter pressure. She has attended several births. She also completed childbirth training with UA Nursing’s Melissa Goldsmith, PhD, RNC, at Tucson’s Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services (TOPS).

Although many doulas do not have a nursing background, Copley says that having the proper training is becoming increasingly important. “I am super lucky to have received the Honors Legacy Grant to fund my doula certification,” she says. “It was a blessing to have the opportunity to get the hands-on training and books that I needed, and to spend time with amazing doulas and people who do great things in the birth base in Arizona.”