Health and Medicine

Program to recruit, train Black doulas receives Harvey Award

Venus Standard, an assistant clinical professor in the UNC School of Medicine, will lead the program with the goal of lowering elevated birth risks for Black women.

Venus Standard

An initiative to improve birth outcomes for Black women by increasing their access to trained Black doulas has received the C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Venus Standard, assistant clinical professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of family medicine, will lead the pilot doula training program that was selected for the award. Doulas are trained professionals who guide mothers and families before, during and after childbirth. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has recommended that families receive care from doulas to improve birth outcomes, and Standard’s program aims to create a pipeline of Black doulas to attend births of Black families in North Carolina.

“I was notified just 48 hours after my presentation, so it took me by surprise and I was just elated,” Standard said of learning she had won the Harvey Award. “I called everybody and told everybody, especially all the supporters and community partners who had helped.”

Standard’s award proposal received letters of support from multiple organizations, including the North Carolina Medical Society and the North Carolina Obstetrical and Gynecological Society.

Black women in the United States die at three to four times the rate of Non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women during childbirth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found. Standard believes that helping connect Black women and Black doulas presents a potential solution to those elevated birth risks.

“Having somebody that looks like you, that understands your struggle, your culture and how to relate to you [is] unquestionably beneficial,” Standard said, referencing recent research that showed reduced infant mortality for Black newborns cared for by Black medical providers.

With the Harvey Award’s $75,000 grant, Standard will be able to recruit and train 20 Black women to earn the DONA International Labor Doula certification, considered the “gold standard” in doula training. While DONA certification is a critical step for aspiring doulas, there has been a lack of access to training for Black women because of barriers such as high fees and limited recruitment.

“Oftentimes I would get calls from people that are not white asking, ‘Can I break [training fees] up into payments? Can I spread it over time?’” Standard said of her own experience leading doula workshops. “So I realized the cost of [training] was the deterrent. I’m just really grateful for this award and the impact it will make possible in these women’s lives.”

Funds from the award will be used to train two cohorts of 10 women, covering education, training materials, certification and professional membership fees. The doulas will be recruited from Orange County and surrounding areas and will train at the UNC Family Medicine Center. Standard expects training for the first cohort to begin in May and conclude by mid-summer.

The program will also provide business and marketing seminars to help the newly trained doulas establish viable businesses upon completion of the program.

Standard, who is also a certified nurse midwife, has assembled a team to train, supervise and mentor the program’s participants. Jacquelyn McMillian Bohler, assistant clinical professor at Duke University School of Nursing, and Stephanie Devane-Johnson ’16, associate professor in the midwifery specialty at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, will serve as program leaders. Sarah Verbiest ’95, ’08, executive director at the UNC School of Medicine’s Center for Maternal Health, will mentor the project team. Penny Simkin, co-founder of DONA International, will serve as director of doula training and development.

Standard’s program is the 16th initiative at Carolina to receive funding from the C. Felix Harvey Award. The Harvey Award recognizes exemplary faculty who reflect the University’s commitment to innovative engagement and outreach for the benefit of communities on a local and statewide level. Previous recipients have included an augmented reality game to help pediatric hospital patients remain active during their treatments and a toolkit to help employers better support employees with autism.

The late C. Felix Harvey was chairman of Harvey Enterprises & Affiliates and founder of the Little Bank Inc., both located in Kinston, North Carolina. A 1943 Carolina graduate, he joined his family in 2007 to endow the Harvey Awards with a $2 million commitment. Five generations of Harveys have earned Carolina degrees.

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