New Master’s Program Aims to Build a Better Reproductive Health System

Monday, December 7, 2015

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Midwives and other childbirth professionals gain policy and advocacy tools to promote maternal and infant health with a Master of Arts in Maternal-Child Health Systems degree.

Hands clasped together in cooperation

The Master of Arts in Maternal-Child Health Systems (MCHS) program is designed for midwives and other maternity care practitioners who want to shift their careers toward teaching, advocacy, research and other ways of leading systemic change. The one-year accredited program prepares graduates to promote the health of mothers and children at hospitals, medical centers, birth centers, public health departments and elsewhere.

“We offer a low-residency master’s degree that can be completed in four quarters while a student is continuing to work in their community,” explains Nancy Anderson, MD, MCHS core faculty. “The curriculum integrates the professional development of advocacy skills and policy knowledge, which they can use to influence policy in their home communities when they graduate.”

A Broader Approach

For mid-career midwives and doulas, a degree program like MCHS can offer an appealing change, says Suzy Myers, LM, CPM, MPH, chair of Bastyr’s Department of Midwifery.

“There’s only so long you can get up in the middle of the night and work crazy hours,” she says. “There is a common need for midwives to shift their professional focus from the hard physical work of delivering babies to something that has a broader approach.”

As midwives learn about structural barriers to providing effective birth care, many find themselves looking for ways to lead change in health systems, says Karen E. Hays, DNP, CNM, ARNP, an adjunct midwifery faculty member who helped develop the new program.

“You’re out there practicing in the trenches and you realize all the frustrations and the obstacles to providing the kind of care you want to deliver,” she says. “Issues related to financing, insurance, cultural biases and so on. The U.S. health care system has huge barriers to what we know is scientifically supported to empower women and improve their health outcomes and their lives. That’s what this program addresses.”

Urgent Work for Women and Babies

It’s urgently important to enable experienced midwives and other maternity care professionals to advocate for their communities, Dr. Anderson says: “The health of pregnant women and babies is infamously poor in the U.S. in comparison to other developed countries. Our country consistently falls at the highest end of poor outcomes, including infant mortality, maternal mortality and low birth weight in comparison with our peers.  

“Clearly the health system that is responsible for these poor outcomes needs change at the highest policy levels. Midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants and other professionals who support pregnant women and their infants are perfectly placed to become knowledgeable and powerful advocates for change.

“The MCHS program, which is grounded in the recognition of health inequities resulting from social injustice, will give interested and committed students the tools that they need to help advocate successfully for change to the health care system. This is change that can and will result in women getting the reproductive health care that they need and deserve for healthier lives and babies.”

Bastyr's Integrated Approach

The MCHS program uses the hybrid-online model that Bastyr University has developed for its Master of Science in Midwifery program. Students attend classes on campus once at the beginning of the year and once at the end, with online modules in between, which allows them to stay involved in their home communities.

Bastyr is uniquely positioned to offer this degree program because, as Dr. Anderson describes, “we are looking for creative thinking, analytical critiques, holistic vision and a dedication to advocacy for complete health for all.” 

Career paths are numerous and varied, but graduates of the MCHS program could expect to work in private, non-profit or governmental agencies that focus on improving health care for women and infants.  

“For those who plan to remain in clinical practice,” explains Dr. Anderson, “this educational program will give them information and tools to expand and promote what they do for families in their communities, and to improve the reproductive health system for women and babies.”


The new Master of Arts in Maternal-Child Health Systems begins in July 2016. To learn more about program eligibility, curriculum and scholarship opportunities, please contact an admissions advisor at (425) 602-3330 or