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Campus News / News

A Semester Abroad Motivates Alumna to Change Medical Care Nationwide

06/25/2020 11:33 am

Rockford University Alumna Michelle Collins

Michelle Collins ’86, spent most of her time on campus in her room studying for her nursing courses. Her senior year, however, presented an opportunity to leave the dorm room and travel to London for a semester abroad at Regent’s College.

The experience proved to be life-changing. “In London, I was able to spend one day a week at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington Station, where Princess Kate and Princess Diana both gave birth.” Collins recalled, “because of my interest in obstetrical nursing, I worked on the labor and delivery floor, which was staffed by midwives. Within the British model, 80 percent of babies are born into the hands of midwives. This was my first exposure to what midwives really do.”

That introduction to an alternative method of labor and delivery left an impression on Collins that would shape her career. When she returned to the states, she continued to work as a labor and delivery nurse for 17 years at Rockford’s St. Anthony Medical Center and SwedishAmerican Hospital.

She then made the decision to return to school to become a certified nurse-midwife, graduating from Marquette University in 2002 with a Master of Science in Nursing/Nurse-Midwifery. She took a position as a certified nurse-midwife in Marion, Ill., where she was the first nurse-midwife to practice in the city.

Midwifery wasn’t the only thing that left an impression on Michelle during her semester abroad. She also learned about the use of “gas and air” (nitrous oxide) during childbirth. “In London, nitrous oxide is used by about 60 percent of the patients during childbirth,” she said. This practice is not widely used in the states. Seeing this option provide relief to a patient in labor inspired a passion in me, to lead an effort to initiate the practice in the US.”

Rockford University Alumna Michelle Collins with prior University president Robert Head, Ph.D.
Pictured: (left) President Emeritus Robert L. Head and (right) Michelle Collins ’86 at the 2015 Alumni Awards ceremony.

After two years in Marion, Michelle was recruited to join the nurse-midwifery faculty practice at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. There, she led the 2011 initiative to offer nitrous oxide to women birthing at the Vanderbilt Medical Center. In 2012, she graduated from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center with a Ph.D. in Nursing and since has consulted hundreds of hospitals and medical sites nationwide to help them establish a nitrous oxide program. Thanks to her efforts, there are now over 1,000 hospitals and medical centers offering nitrous oxide to their patients during childbirth.

“Being at Rockford College, and then being able to include the semester abroad in my education was really life-altering,” Collins said. “I would never have become a nurse-midwife had I not seen it firsthand in London, and I would have never seen nitrous oxide in use and been inspired to make sure that American women had access to the same option.”

Michelle received Rockford University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015 for her accomplishments in the practice of medicine in the United States and for her support of the University.

Following her 14 years of practice, teaching, and serving as the program director for the nurse-midwifery program at Vanderbilt University, Michelle returned to the Midwest where she is now the associate dean of academic affairs at Rush University College of Nursing in Chicago. She also continues to provide obstetric and gynecologic care and delivery of babies at the University of Illinois Chicago Medical Center.