In Memoriam: Joyce Roberts

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It is with a heavy heart that we announce the peaceful passing of Joyce Roberts on January 16, 2022, surrounded by her sister, daughter and grand-daughter. A renowned nurse-midwife, educator, scholar, and national leader, Joyce has been called a “great lady,” “diamond gem,” “shero,” “powerhouse,” “midwifery pioneer,” and “singular leader” by her colleagues and friends.

Joyce started her professional career as a nurse. She earned her BS at the University of Wyoming, honed her clinical nursing skills in Wyoming, Iowa, and California, and taught nursing at the University of Wyoming and San Diego State College. Early in her career, Joyce was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau honor society and later was elected to the Fellowship in the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN) for her distinguished contributions to the nursing profession.

At the University of Utah Joyce earned her MS in Maternal Newborn Nursing and achieved competencies to become a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), the basis for her professional persona and distinguished career. She viewed her role as attending to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of childbearing women. Joyce sharpened her clinical and negotiation skills first at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and later at the University of Illinois Hospital, where she became Clinical Chief and Clinical Nurse Scientist of Women’s Family Health Service. These clinical positions were in conjunction with her faculty role at the University of Illinois and provided enormous benefit for her students. 

Joyce is well known for her career as a midwife educator. She significantly influenced the lives and careers of countless students and colleagues at the University of Utah, the University of Illinois, the Health Sciences Center at the University of Colorado, The Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan. She taught and modeled superb clinical skills, treated students as professional colleagues asking for their advice, and coached many in career decisions. Seventeen U.S. universities sought her advice to develop nurse-midwifery educational programs. Her reputation spread to Sweden where she consulted about masters-level nurse-midwifery education. Joyce brought her deep understanding and wisdom related to rigor in education and policy to the national accreditation of midwifery programs. She served as site visitor, Chair of the Board of Review, and Chair of the Governing Board of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) Division of Accreditation (DoA) over 15 years.

Joyce earned her PhD in Nursing from the University of Illinois College of Nursing. Her dissertation topic was the effect of maternal position in labor. This investigation initiated her research career on the second stage of labor. She investigated maternal “pushing,” pain management, psychological trauma, hypertension, perineal outcome, and maternal fatigue and published on topics of informed consent, clinical decision-making, maternal attachment, and more. In all, she authored more than fifty publications. Joyce presented her findings and their implications across the U.S. and internationally. She gave her time to provide brilliant critiques of research programs of fellow midwives that “gave rise to the academic success of at least three generations of midwife scientists.”  As her research reputation grew, she consulted on research into midwifery practices in Sweden and served on panels to review research proposals for the Medical Research Council of Canada, the Australian Research Council, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute for Child Health and Development (NICHD), and the Division of Nursing (DON). In addition, she served as a reviewer for six professional journals and on the editorial boards of BIRTH and the Journal of Nurse-Midwifery (now the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health)

Joyce was an exemplar of leadership for midwives and for the health of mothers and newborns. To that end, despite the tremendous time and responsibilities in directing midwifery programs and conducting original research, Joyce devoted a massive amount of her career to advancing the goals and activities of the ACNM, including serving as Chapter Chairperson, Chair of the national Bylaws Committee, and Regional Representative on the ACNM Board of Directors. Joyce then served as the President of the ACNM for two terms (1995-2001) and continued to be active post-presidency on national policy issues. In her role as President, she was wise, exceptionally poised, and exceedingly articulate as she dealt with controversial issues among the college membership and sensitive issues with other organizations. These included initiating a process for exploring non-nurse professional midwifery educational paths for entering the profession and advocating for ACNM to be recognized as the representative of the profession of midwifery. Joyce was instrumental as “the first President to recognize and explore the need for midwives of color to have a forum to discuss issues unique to them and initiated the first ad hoc minority affairs committee.” 

Beyond ACNM, Joyce became an expert voice for women and infants in the U.S. She served as the ACNM Representative to the Committee on Perinatal Health, Toward Improving the Outcomes of Pregnancy, convened by the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She was appointed to the U.S. Secretary of Health’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality.

Joyce’s official honors have been many. Beyond receiving recognition as an FAAN, she was admitted to Fellowship in ACNM (FACNM) for clinical excellence, outstanding scholarship, and professional achievement. She was recognized as a Distinguished Alumni by the University of Utah and the University of Wyoming. In 2008, Joyce was honored with ACNM’s highest distinction, The Hattie Hemschemeyer Award (since renamed the ACNM Lifetime Visionary Award), for distinguished service to midwifery and maternal child health. Colleagues and friends have noted that Joyce was an extraordinary listener, warm and compassionate, and a devoted friend. Many have noted, including the “old Chicago midwives”,  that Joyce took plenty of time to get together with others and share many stories and laughs. Joyce will be sorely missed and keenly remembered for her brilliance, generosity, and “fierce” dedication to midwifery. 

Charitable donations in Joyce’s memory may be made to The A.C.N.M. Foundation, Inc. at: https://www.midwife.org/charitable-contributions.

Many thanks to numerous contributors, especially Mary Ellen Stanton MSN, CNM, FACNM for leading the compilation of this In Memoriam.