Nursing Professer Wins Prestigious Award

Nursing Professer Wins Prestigious Award

Congratulations to Professor Mary Barger, PhD, CNM, MPH, for winning the prestigious Dorothea M. Lang Pioneer Award at the annual meeting of the American College of Nurse-Midwives held virtually the first weekend of June 2020.   

This most distinguished honor is awarded annually to three of midwifery's top nurse-midwives in practice for at least 20 years who are pioneers in the field and have provided vision and leadership. It is given in honor of Dorothea M. Lang.  Ms. Lang, who passed away in 2017, was a past-president of the ACNM. Her career as a nurse-midwife began in the 1960s.

In addition to Dr. Barger’s leadership of two different nurse-midwifery education programs and her scholarship, she led the incorporation of primary care content into the basic midwifery education core competencies as well as providing leadership in the establishment of a certification maintenance program for midwives certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board.   

 “I was surprised because normally this award, in honor of Dorothea Lang who was this amazing midwife from New York, has gone to people from New York,” Dr. Barger said. “But typically it is given to people who are pioneers in the field.”

For example, Dr. Barger helped to start one of the first nurse-midwife private practices in San Diego. The Best Start Birth Center was established in the 1980s with two Certified Nurse-Midwives. Today, the center boasts seven CNMs plus birth assistants and staff.

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She believes she was nominated for the award for two reasons: first, she was instrumental in incorporating primary care in the core competencies for midwives. When she worked for the Boston University School of Public Health, she and her colleagues realized that if their midwife students were going to work in underserved areas, they would need training in primary care. 

“That wasn’t a very popular thing at the time. In fact, the students hated it.” 

But after the students completed the program, many contacted Dr. Barger.

“I would inevitably get a letter from them,” she said.  The letter would read, “Dear Mary, thank you for teaching us primary care.  It’s really invaluable in taking care of my patients.”

She also believes she was nominated because of another unpopular suggestion she made involving re-certification. At the time Dr. Barger was certified as a nurse-midwife, the certification was for life.  She realized that would not be acceptable; nurse midwives had to renew their certification as a way to show they were up-to-date in the latest advancements of the profession. So she developed a re-certification program.

“Oh my gosh, I went to a meeting and I thought they were going to throw tomatoes at me. At first, we made it just for the people who were newer, but then it became clear that it had to be for everyone.”

At the time, re-certification was uncommon. 

Dr. Barger found significance in winning this award during the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

“It was a wonderful honor,” Dr. Barger said.  “I didn’t think I was really deserving, but it was great.”

Dr. Barger talks about the need for changes to the statute in California.  Click here to listen.


Dr. Barger is an associate professor of nursing at the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science. She completed her doctoral education in epidemiology from Boston University’s School of Public Health. She received her Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in maternal and child health and nurse-midwifery and her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Stanford University. Dr. Barger has been the director of two nurse-midwifery education programs; she has educated nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, medical students, and residents. During her teaching career, she has practiced full-scope clinical nurse-midwifery. Currently, at USD she teaches in the PhD, DNP, and MEPN programs.

Dr. Barger is professionally active in midwifery organizations. She has served on the American Midwifery Certification Board and is the chair for the Data Management section of Division of Research for the American College of Nurse-Midwives. She recently finished a nine-year tenure as a co-chair of the Education Standing Committee for the International Confederation of Midwives and is an associate editor for the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health.


begin quoteIt was a wonderful honor. I didn’t think I was really deserving, but it was great.
Dr. Mary Barger

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