New Faculty Profile: Get to know Elise Erickson, PhD, CNM

July 29, 2022

The University of Arizona College of Nursing is excited to announce that Elise Erickson, PhD, CNM, has joined the College as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Erickson comes to the UArizona from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, where she was Assistant Professor at the School of Nursing. Originally from West Michigan, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and her Master of Science (MS) from the University of Illinois Chicago before heading west to complete her PhD at Oregon Health & Science University.

Dr. Erickson was drawn to UArizona Nursing not only because of its stature as a powerful research institution, but also because of its upcoming nurse-midwifery program. “I knew that UArizona Nursing would be an excellent environment for supporting this next phase of the research I have been conducting,” she says. “Midwifery education was also a priority in my choice, and I'm pleased that the College will be offering nurse-midwifery in the DNP program soon as well. Arizona, as a state, also has unique health challenges in terms of maternal health and I think my research will align well with some of the key concerns of the communities that I hope to serve in my practice and research.”

Dr. Erickson looks forward to providing content as needed to the midwifery education program as well as mentoring students from the DNP and PhD programs. Her dream is to eventually teach an elective course on perinatal physiology and developmental origins of health and disease.

As midwives, we have a strong emphasis on caring for the emotional and social or spiritual health of the person in addition to the core physical aspects. All of these factors play into the pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience and supporting them all will benefit the transition to motherhood or any other reproductive health experience," ~ Elise Erickson, PhD, CNM

What drew you to a career in nursing?

My interest in nursing was instigated from a course I took as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan -- a women's health course taught by a certified nurse midwife. I had not really considered nursing and had no exposure to midwifery prior to this point, but light bulbs were turned on for me during that course. I transferred into the school of nursing, intent on pursuing midwifery, and I haven't looked back since.

What drew you to enter the nurse-midwife field?

During this course, I learned a great deal about the intersection between healthcare related to pregnancy, birth and reproduction, and women's health broadly, with political and philosophical concepts rooted in feminist and social justice principles. I did a lot of reading about the history of pregnancy care, the midwifery approach to health during pregnancy and birth and found that it resonated with me on multiple levels. I had a desire to pursue biological or health sciences but didn't feel that medicine was calling me. The focus of midwifery is on health maintenance and prevention rather than a focus on pathology and attention to the whole person is really a core principle of the philosophy. As midwives, we have a strong emphasis on caring for the emotional and social or spiritual health of the person in addition to the core physical aspects. All of these factors play into the pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience and supporting them all will benefit the transition to motherhood or any other reproductive health experience.

Can you tell us more about your research interests/focus?

Very broadly, I'm interested in the physiology of the labor and birth processes and understanding the reasons it may deviate from a healthy path to giving birth. In conjunction with this, and with the midwifery philosophy of care, I'm looking at ways that the social environment could influence birth outcomes, positively and negatively, by causing the body to work differently through epigenetic differences, epigenetic aging, stress, or other mechanisms. We have a crisis of maternal morbidity/mortality and severe disparities between racialized groups in the United States. One factor in poor outcomes could be rooted in how social disadvantage takes a toll on the body, causing changes early in life that influence the reproductive process, even in young people.

In addition, I've focused a lot of my career on how the hormone, and commonly used medication, oxytocin works during labor and the ways that our care practices might be causing more complications like postpartum hemorrhage. I also look at genetic differences in how oxytocin works in the body and am working toward understanding ways to use pharmacogenomic strategies to personalize the kind of care we provide people during labor, to minimize harm and maximize benefits of oxytocin. Finally, I have ongoing studies using a wearable device that can detect physiologic changes in the body. The goal of this study is to try to predict changes in the pregnancy state through real-time non-invasive wearable technology.

How are you building your research program?

Because I have several overlapping yet distinct areas of research, I feel like I spend a good deal of time just trying to keep all the balloons in the air. However, I have been lucky enough to receive a couple of training and early career grants from the National Institutes of Health, which have allowed me valuable time to focus on developing and conducting my studies, analyzing data, and then taking the next steps in the process. One of the most important building blocks has been developing and sustaining collaborations across campus, disciplines, and the nation. Most of my collaborators are in other departments like genetics, epigenetics, biomedical engineering, psychology, reproductive biology, pharmacy, and physiology. However, coming to UA, I have a strong desire to bring more students into my research program, people who are eager to tackle pieces of the puzzle I'm trying to put together.

What is your teaching philosophy?

I believe in collaborative active learning and facilitative leadership in the classroom. Depending on the topic, I think that working in teams can be a very valuable way to stimulate inquiry and solidify difficult content. I have used a lot of 'flipped' classroom approaches and am eager to try new ideas that stimulate genuine curiosity. For example, in learning embryonic and fetal development, I had students do a great deal of reading, discussion, visit a fetal development exhibit at a museum and then make various stages of embryos using different colors of Play-Doh. After all these steps, I could see students start to fully grasp this very difficult and nebulous subject, finally realizing the three-dimensions of human development. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

As a family, my husband, two boys and two dogs enjoy getting into nature, exploring with hiking and camping or riding bikes. As a busy mom and academic, my bike commute to and from campus is sometimes my most valuable, or only, free time. I’m looking forward to doing that here in Tucson.