Monday Medical: Nurse midwives — an inside look |

Monday Medical: Nurse midwives — an inside look

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

They don’t just deliver babies: certified nurse midwives specialize in all aspects of women’s health, including pregnancy and birth.

“We provide full-scope women’s care,” said Liz Kilmer-Sterling, a certified nurse midwife with UCHealth Women’s Care Clinics in Craig and Steamboat Springs. “We help with birth control, menopause symptoms, some primary care, well-women visits, pap smears — all of those things that are consistent with women’s health.”

Below, Kilmer-Sterling outlines things to know about nurse midwives.

What is a nurse midwife’s philosophy of care?

Nurse midwives care for women throughout their lives and view the various events in a woman’s life — from pregnancy and birth to menopause — as normal occurrences. “We strive to empower, educate, provide care and intervene using technology and tools when necessary,” Kilmer-Sterling said.

Nurse midwives are often very hands-on with patients, spending a lot of time on education.

They can also assist during the entire labor and delivery process. “Sometimes, that means just being with women during labor as support,” Kilmer-Sterling said. “We help with positioning, counterpressure and other hands-on support for families during their birth experiences.”

When it comes to sharing information about pregnancy and delivery, Kilmer-Sterling likes to start early.

“I want to make sure our families have the tools they need to be successful, whatever that looks like to them, such as whether they want to attempt an unmedicated birth,” Kilmer-Sterling said. “As early as that 12-week timeframe, I start asking, ‘What do you do that helps you relax?’ or ‘What helps you get through stressful or painful situations?’ I encourage them to start investigating that early, so they can begin developing a plan and start practicing those techniques.”

How do nurse midwives work with OB/GYNs?

In two words: very closely.

“We have a very collaborative practice with our physicians, so we can bounce things off of them and share patient care updates with them,” Kilmer-Sterling said. “And if a situation develops that becomes too high risk or out of our scope of practice, we either co-manage care or at times, need to completely turn care over to the physician. Our goal is a seamless transfer of care if something comes up.”

Kilmer-Sterling has sometimes been asked by OB/GYNs to come work her magic in the delivery room.

“It’s a two-way street. We have a high respect for our OB/GYN colleagues, and I know they develop a very high respect for us,” Kilmer-Sterling said. “Ultimately, we’re all there to help women and their families through this process, to have a safe, happy and healthy outcome for moms and babies.”

What are common myths about nurse midwives?

“One of the biggest myths is that we won’t allow women to have pain medicine,” Kilmer-Sterling said. “Rather, we support each woman’s individual decision about whether to use pain medicine in labor.”

People also may not realize the amount of education required of a certified nurse midwife. There is a nursing degree and a master’s degree in nursing, followed by nurse midwifery training. This extensive training is broad and not limited to obstetrics.

And sometimes, people expect nurse midwives to only deliver in the home setting. While Kilmer-Sterling, like 80% of certified nurse midwives, provides care in the hospital, she does work to make that setting as comfortable and relaxing as possible.

“I try to create a home-like environment, and because we’re in the hospital, I have the ability to provide additional interventions that are not always available in the home setting,” Kilmer-Sterling said.

“We want to make sure women are well informed about their health and body, so they can be a partner in their care and make informed decisions,” Kilmer-Sterling said. “It’s very women-centered and family-centered. I always welcome women to come in and have a chat if they’d like to learn more.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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