Student spotlight: Medvec Nursing Innovation Award goes to DNP student focused on maternal health

Jessica Fladger, winner of a respected University of Michigan School of Nursing (UMSN) award, is creating new opportunities to support women preparing for childbirth. This aspiration is at the forefront of her enduring calling to care for mothers and babies.

“I think I was born with it,” she said. “A lot of midwives will say they don’t know exactly why but it’s just something that is inside of us.”

Engraining a new option

Fladger (2nd from right) was recently a panelist for a UMSN event focused on decreasing maternal mortalityWhile Fladger’s focus came as naturally as the births midwives aspire to facilitate, her professional objectives are far from easy.

“I would love for group prenatal care to be the standard for women,” said Fladger, a UMSN BSN alumna and current Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student. “I want them to have that option from the first time they call their provider. I want it to be that engrained in the process.”

Fladger knows changing the norms of a well-established health care process is a formidable goal, but says the current state of maternal health care demands a change.

“In the United States, we spend the most money on health care but, in regards to maternal outcomes, we do very poorly compared to other developed nations,” she said. “We need to stop just doing what we’ve been doing. Group prenatal care is a nursing-focused intervention that really does work and we have data to support it.”

It’s not just the expectant mothers who are Fladger’s focus.

“Providers may not understand all the benefits of group care and they might not know if they have the time or space to bring it about,” she said. “I’m in the DNP program so I can be a well-prepared advocate for group care and figure out what can help providers incorporate it into their practice.”

The benefits of group

Education and peer support are two key assets of group sessions, according to Fladger.

Fladger as a UMSN senior with her Research Day poster“I don’t think anyone is meant to have children alone,” she said. “When women can talk to other women and say ‘I’m going through that too’ or ‘here’s what I did to help with that,’ it normalizes a lot of the situations that women experience.”

In addition, Fladger wants to break down the “have it all” mindset. Instead, she’d like to give women more room to peacefully shift their focus areas as life progresses.

“Women have a lot of pressure to do and be everything with their families and jobs,” she explained. “You’re really not supposed to do all these things at once or by yourself. That’s one of the key reasons why I think group works really well. It’s a support system.” 

While Fladger would like to make group care a standard for all women, she’s starting with those who need it the most.

“The research really supports that marginalized and vulnerable women who participate in groups have better health outcomes,” she explained.

Innovation Award

UMSN’s 2019 Medvec Nursing Innovation Award was recently awarded to Fladger which means she has the opportunity to work on a special research project. She’s preparing to explore the benefits of group prenatal care for incarcerated women in a Michigan prison.

Fladger (2nd from right) graduating with her BSN “The majority of these women are in prison for non-violent crimes,” she explained. “Anybody in your life can end up in prison and you would want them to get good prenatal care.”

She knows people often view prisoners as undeserving of help but urges a compassionate stance.  

“I think we have to humanize the system a bit better so we can help everybody. All Americans regardless of their status, race and background deserve quality health care.”

Fladger hopes this project will be one of many that she’s able to use in order to improve evidence-based practice.

“I am excited about the future and putting my DNP to work,” she said. “When I started the program, I really didn’t know what DNP-prepared nurses do. Now I have a better understanding. We have a lot of research but implementing it into practice has been lagging so I’m excited to be an advocate for that.”

Fladger will be sharing her work as one of the student poster presenters at UMSN’s Research Day on April 9.