UWW alumni spotlight: Gail Stamler

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Certified Nurse-Midwife living in southern New Mexico, UMass Amherst UWW graduate, Gail Stamler ‘13 has been delivering babies and aiding in women’s healthcare for 33 years.  She shares her journey and her secrets to being successful in a rewarding, yet demanding field.  Her UWW advisor: Lisa Fontes.  Her concentration: Community Health.

Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story?

I am a Certified Nurse-Midwife in southern New Mexico, practicing since 1980. I previously had an associate's degree in nursing and a certificate in nurse-midwifery, and had struggled for years trying to find "the right way" to complete a bachelor's degree. I didn't want a bachelor's in nursing where I had accumulated most of my university credits. When I read about the UMass Amherst University Without Walls program I found a way to take classes that interested me and a means by which I could receive credit for my 30 years of experience as a midwife. I chose to complete my degree with a focus in community health and graduated December 2012.

Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?

I chose UMass Amherst because the staff was professional and helpful and I knew the university had a great reputation. I loved doing the classes online because of the convenience. My work schedule as a midwife is demanding, the hours are irregular, and I travel between two different locations 30 miles apart for work and home. Some people feel the need to be in a classroom but I'm accustomed to researching information on my own and I like the flexibility that online classes offer. I also have to admit that I can be impatient in a class setting, and studying online let's me take a break when I need it.

What was your favorite class at UMass Amherst?

I truly enjoyed every class and instructor I had at UMass Amherst. The portfolio class was challenging and I appreciate how it improved my writing skills. My advisor Lisa Fontes, also the instructor for the portfolio class, was very supportive and our personalities were a good match. I took classes ranging from public health to Latin literature, and every instructor was great.  My final class was "Reflections on Technology" and through this class I created a blog that I use every day now with my patients. It focuses on how to prepare the foods you need to eat to create better health, lower your cholesterol or blood sugar or blood pressure, or lose weight.

Completing this degree through UMass Amherst UWW gave me a greater appreciation for the work I've been doing for 33 years as a midwife in the U.S./Mexico border region. I began my career as a licensed midwife in 1980 and I delivered babies at home for the next 13 years. I spent a lot of time in people's homes and came to appreciate how much more we know about our patients when we meet them in their own homes. For the last twenty years I have delivered babies in hospitals and I provide GYN care to women of all ages. My early years doing home births were a unique preparation for the work I do today.

I see midwifery as about 80% social work and 20% medicine, and most of what I do is education. I try to present the health information I think my patients are seeking, in a way that they find useful, and with 'better health' as the ultimate goal, I try to support them in the process. We cover everything from the prevention of sexually transmitted infections to obesity and diabetes, often all in the same visit. My personal goal during the day is to stay as focused and helpful and respectful to each person as I can. I love the bicultural/bilingual environment here, where we go back and forth between Spanish and English throughout the day, and the stories and jokes we tell revolve around this unique area where we live.

How do you balance work, school and other responsibilities?

I survive my busy schedule by eating as much healthy food as I can, I get some kind of exercise every day, and I do yoga to try to stay calm and feel relaxed in a work environment where there is a lot of inherent anxiety. No one likes going to the doctor, and having babies can be scary! I encourage other students to do the same. Stay healthy despite the school process.

I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive husband who has always encouraged me in my work as a midwife and he was really there for me during the school process. Midwives' husbands are a special breed and mine is among the best. He believes 100% in what I do and he always has. It wouldn't have been as much fun to add school onto my work schedule without him there to help. Like President Obama said, none of us became successful without help from others, and I'm the first to admit it.

In fact, it was President Obama who convinced me I should finish this degree. He was so enthusiastic when he was first elected and our country was in such a difficult time with the horrible recession – not that we aren't still in a bad circumstances – and when he talked about how everyone would have to help, would have to work harder, get more education, he was speaking directly to me. It was the kind of inspirational thing President Kennedy would have said and it got me to finally make the commitment to complete a degree I'd been wanting to finish for many years. 

What are your future plans professionally and personally?

I've delivered over 2,500 babies since I started my career in 1980, and I won't be ready to retire for many years to come. I plan to keep doing deliveries for about five more years, at which point I will be 62 years old. Then I imagine I will be a GYN provider until I'm 80! I love what I do, I care about my patients and I am a scientist by nature so it's all interesting to me.

I also want to become more involved in policy making. I have a personal philosophy/belief that we won't have fair representation or live in a balanced country until our government is half women, so I encourage women to get involved where they can.  Being a midwife for 35 years has made me a believer in the strength of women as the untapped leaders of this country. I've been inspired by great women throughout my career and I hope to see many more of them in leadership roles in our future.