While its certainly a major part of the job, nurse-midwifery
is much more than birthing babies.
Ive had patients come see me for their annual exams
when they are in their 70s, said Joyce King, assistant professor
of nursing and a nurse-midwife for more than 20 years.
The word midwife simply means with women,
said King, who has taught nurse-midwifery for most of her 23 years
at Emory. Im a nurse and a midwife, and a midwife simply
cares for women throughout their reproductive life.
The bond formed between midwives and their patients is stronger
than that of perhaps any other health care professional, even other
nurses. The intimacy of a babys arrival and all the preparation
that goes into itnot to mention the birth itselfmakes
this connection natural. King estimated she spends double the time
a physician spends with their pregnant patients.
When a patient shows up at the hospital, Im there with
her, King said. I rub her feet. I rub her back. I get
her into the shower. I get her into the rocking chair, I walk with
her. If she wants pain medication, I get that for her. I am there
to support her in any way I can, to liaison between her and her
family and the nursing staff and anybody else she may have to interact
The midwife then will deliver the baby and help new mothers with
activities like breastfeeding. Six weeks after the babys birth,
the midwife can perform postpartum checkups.
Most any issue regarding womens health, from hormonal therapy
for menopause to family planning and contraception, falls within
the realm of a nurse-midwife. But it is childbirth that is most
associated with the profession.
King said she has seen patients for whom she has delivered children
outside the office. Not only the mother but the father will embrace
her and tell her how glad they are to see her.
You probably wouldnt see that with a primary care physician,
she said. Its special sharing that with somebody.
King received her masters in nursing from from Vanderbilt
University in 1976. Her first assignment was at a rural health clinic
in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., about 35 miles and 100 years from downtown
Chattanooga. She, in fact, was the first nurse practitioner in that
part of the state.
King recalled treating the children from one family who were suffering
from amoebic dysentery, an affliction caused by drinking contaminated
water. When she visited their home, she found a dwelling with no
running water and no plumbing of any kind, not even an outhouse.
Human waste was scattered throughout the yard, and the odor was
My whole job was to help them find a way to get clean water,
and I helped them build an outhouse, King said.
In Chattanooga, King found an old cement water closet, and she contacted
people from the health department who took it out to the house.
Together, they dug a latrine and built an outhouse around it.
You think, Am I in Africa? Where am I?
In 1979, following a few years in Soddy-Daisy, she came to Emory
to teach and has been here ever since.
King teaches not only in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursings
nurse-midwifery program but also its nurse practitioner program.
Beginning last fall, King and Associate Professor of Nursing Sarah
Freeman began co-coordinating a womens health/nurse practitioner
program. Funded with money from a grant King and Freeman secured,
it focused on ambulatory care. With no promotion and barely a months
planning, five students were recruited for the program last fall.
King hopes to increase that number for next year.
Kings current research ties together her clinical work in
womens health and research she conducted while earning her
Ph.D. in physiology at Emory in 1995. For her dissertation, King
studied obesity and investigated the connections between obesity
She has just written a grant proposal for an investigation into
gestational diabetes, which some pregnant women contract. When the
pregnancy is over, the diabetes goes away. Little is known about
About 5 percent of women become diabetic during the time
they are pregnant, and they are more at risk for developing diabetes
later in life, King said. Obese women, she added, seem to
be more susceptible. A hormone called leptin, discovered in the
1990s, appears to play a role in gestational diabetes. What exactly
that role is, though, is unknown. And its what King wants
to find out.
Outside the classroom and laboratory, Kings passion is travel.
Sometimes its for work, like last summer when she was one
of 16 Emory professors who traveled to Germany for the Halle Institute
for Global Learnings faculty study trip.
That was an incredible experience, King said. It
wasnt like being a tourist; we met with politicians, professors,
bankers, rabbis, heads of factoriesit gave me a feeling not
just for Germany, but for all of Europe and the political, economic
and social issues that are important.
Getting to share the experience with other professors was meaningful,
as well. Were so insular here [in the nursing school],
its difficult to participate in activities on campus because
were so busy. So traveling with people from the law school
and Oxford and the School of Public Health was wonderful. If I see
these people on campus now, theyre like my good friends.
King travels for fun, too. For instance, she and her 16-year-old
son John are hiking the Appalachian Trailin weeklong increments.
Each year since John was 8, the two of them, along with Kings
sister Judy and her nephew Paul, take a few days or maybe a week
to hike the trail from Georgia to Maine. Last year, they hiked about
50 miles over three days. This year, they will pick up where they
left off (in North Carolina), go as far as they can, then start
again in 2003.
When will they make it to Maine and the trails northern terminus?
Probably when Im 90, King laughed. But