Commencement Address Speaker (2018)


Holly Powell Kennedy, PhD, CNM, FACNM, FAAN

Helen Varney Professor of Midwifery, Yale School of Nursing

As an internationally known midwifery researcher and leader Dr. Kennedy is the first person to be appointed as the Varney Professor of Midwifery at Yale in 2009. She came to the position with broad experiences as a clinician, researcher, educator, policymaker and leader in a variety of settings. Collectively these experiences have shaped her current vision of academic and clinical scholarship in US maternal-child health care.

She is Past-President of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), the professional association representing Certified Nurse-Midwives and Certified Midwives in the US. She received the 2016 Hattie Hemschemeyer Award, the highest honor bestowed by ACNM in recognition of her contributions to research, education, and practice.

Dr. Kennedy received a diploma in nursing from Miami Valley Hospital School of Nursing, Dayton, Ohio, a bachelor’s degree from Chaminade University, Honolulu, HI, a master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner from the Medical College of Georgia, a certificate of midwifery from the Frontier School of Midwifery & Family Nursing, Hyden, KY, and a PhD in nursing from the University of Rhode Island. She has held academic positions at the University of Rhode Island and most recently at the University of California San Francisco. She holds a visiting faculty appointment at King’s College London where she was a Fulbright Distinguished Fellow in 2008.

Dr. Kennedy’s program of research is rooted in her clinical and educational experiences during which she was challenged by a prevailing lack of trust in and fear of childbirth. Her research is committed to understand the links between “how” care is provided during pregnancy and birth with clinical and social outcomes. Part of her work has culminated in a conceptual framework of midwifery care reflecting (a) the relationship between the woman and the midwife, (b) orchestration of an environment of care by the midwife to meet the woman’s needs, and (c) life journeys, or outcomes for both, that go beyond usual perinatal measures. She has employed mixed methods to examine the provision of care in complex settings and with various models. She has been instrumental in developing the concept of “optimality” in maternity care which strives to achieve the maximal outcome with minimal intervention in the context of the woman’s obstetrical, medical, and social background. Her future work will examine cultural issues in applying evidence supporting low-interventive care in complex birth settings and the impact of care practices on epigenetic changes for mother and child.

Dr. Kennedy received Frontier Nursing University’s alumni award for Distinguished Service to Society in 2012.