EWING — In New Jersey, the maternal mortality rate has been estimated to be up to seven times higher for Black, non-Hispanic mothers compared with non-Hispanic white moms.

The disparity is part of what the state's First Lady, Tammy Murphy, refers to as a maternal health crisis, and informed the creation of her "Nurture NJ" initiative, with the mission of making the Garden State "the safest and most equitable place in the nation to deliver and raise a baby."

A constant partner in that collective has been the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey, where students are getting a chance to impact public policy before they even start their careers in the field.

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One of those students, Salomine Ekambi of the Class of 2022, said she gained valuable knowledge for her future just from being asked to participate and take notes at a summit addressing Black maternal and infant health.

While note-taking might not sound glamorous, Ekambi's observations were shared with Nurture NJ staff including numerous TCNJ alumni, according to Natasha Patterson, assistant professor of public health.

Patterson said despite the dire statistics, New Jersey is at the forefront of working to improve maternal outcomes for women of color, because it remains a national problem.

'Enact something and do something about it'

"Taking these action steps are so important, and also involving all of the different entities and sectors in this work is so significant to us actually getting the work done," Patterson said, adding that nursing and public health students are now not only becoming aware of this specific issue, but "they are also learning how to have a space and be able to actually enact something and do something about it."

Ekambi echoed that estimation of TCNJ's impact in this area, which only figures to grow.

"It just leaves that legacy and holds that precedent that change is coming and people are doing something about it, not just talking about making that change," she said.

The College of New Jersey (Photo courtesy of The College of New Jersey)

With the increase in interest in hiring doulas in recent years, non-medical individuals who assist mothers before, during, and after giving birth, TCNJ is launching a new course of study in the profession.

Students will work toward their certification and get an early opportunity for field work in between classroom learning.

We like to think about baby showers and all the joyful aspects of pregnancy, Patterson said, but added that childbirth remains dangerous for both mother and child, and bolstering New Jersey's roster of compassionate, close-at-hand professionals to help out can only improve outcomes.

"We have to pay attention to the needs of the pregnant person and the needs of the family, and be more holistic about supporting them," Patterson said.

The College of New Jersey's course for aspiring doulas will be offered starting in the summer of 2022.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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