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Shannon Pirrie, DNP ‘21, CNM ‘15

A Midwife Life: How Shannon Pirrie Finds Joy in Her Work

Specialty Director of CU Nursing’s Nurse-Midwifery Program shares career perspectives

Written by Bob Mook on April 4, 2023

Shannon Pirrie, DNP ‘21, CNM ‘15, is living her best life right now.

“I think I’m happier in my career than I’ve ever been,” she says. “Every little step I took was probably guiding me towards something like this.”

As an Assistant Professor of Clinical Practice and the Specialty Director of the Nurse-Midwifery Program at the University of Colorado College of Nursing at Anschutz Medical Campus, Pirrie divides her working hours between teaching and clinical practices at the University Nurse Midwives and the Sheridan Health Services, where she converses with most of her patients in Spanish.

Though her career didn’t move far from Loveland, Colo., where she grew up with two sisters, Pirrie’s wanderlust has led her to exotic ports of call around the world – beginning with enrolling in an international student exchange program when she was 18.

“Learning Spanish and traveling abroad instead of going to college right away was probably one of the most influential decisions of my life,” she says. “I’ve been deeply enriched by getting to know and appreciate people of different cultures outside of the United States.”

Pirrie’s opportunity to study abroad in Barcelona led to her fluency in Spanish. In 2016 and 2017, she participated in a CU Midwifery Fellowship which had a global health focus. She traveled to the Trifinio region of southwest Guatemala, where she trained and worked with the nurses and birth attendants. She plans to return to Trifinio for a 2024 rotation with her nurse-midwifery students.

In February, we talked to Pirrie about her adventures in education, and midwifery.

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Where are you from originally?

I was born in Loveland, Colorado. It was a nice small town. My mother was an obstetric nurse and then a school health nurse for Head Start, so I think that’s probably a huge part of my foundation and interest in healthcare. In Head Start, she worked with a vulnerable and underserved group of children. Just hearing about the inequities from early in my life made me want to address them my whole life in whatever kind of way I could.

Did you always want to be a nurse?

For as long as I can remember. There were photos of me when I was three years old, dressing up and wearing a scrub hat and a stethoscope, and listening to my older sister’s heart.

Where did you go to college?

I studied abroad in Barcelona and then I went to University of Colorado, Beth-El College of Nursing in Colorado Springs, and for my undergrad. Followed by my Nurse-Midwifery and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees from the University of Colorado College of Nursing at Anschutz Medical Campus.

Where’d you work after that?

I was hired at the (UCHealth) University of Colorado Hospital in 2010 in their graduate nurse residency program at the pulmonary surgical unit.

How did you gravitate to nurse-midwifery from there?

Even in nursing school, I wanted to be a women’s health provider, but I got advice from my mom and other folks not to narrow my specialty too soon. So, my goal was to just get two years of general practice and then go to midwifery school.

It sounds like you had that in your mind for a while.

Yes. Even in nursing school, you can see how central the pregnant person is to their family, and I felt like I was teaching them how to navigate the healthcare system. Pregnancy is a very impactful time and I thought “this is how we’re going to improve healthcare for this population.”

So, your vision is bringing the practice of midwifery to those underserved populations. What’s behind that vision?

The best perinatal outcomes for a medically low-risk population come from midwives. We manage moderate risk cases as well, and then can co-manage on high-risk cases. We also work on social factors – the social determinants of health – such as access to food, rides to work, etc. Those are things the art of midwifery can address more naturally than medicine.

You practice at Sheridan and with the University Nurse Midwives once a week. I would imagine that’s very meaningful work.

I came to midwifery more for public health, but have come to love that magical moment of being with a family during a huge transition in their life. Clinically, I’d say Sheridan is the practice that I was meant to do. It helps fill a need in the community. Bringing that high-quality care to this underserved group of people is really important. The joy comes from seeing good outcomes and seeing our patients navigate through really tough things and come out stronger. I get to see my patients bring their babies to see the pediatric nurse practitioners at Sheridan. My number one goal is that every patient feels like the center of my attention.

Let’s talk about your role as specialty director for (CU Nursing’s) Nurse-Midwifery program. You came onboard in June of 2020. That must’ve been a really interesting time with the pandemic happening.

It went okay. The hard part was getting students back into clinicals once the hospitals shut down. But we actually graduated all of our students on time that year – which was pretty remarkable.

How were you able to do that?

Because our students are placed with faculty practice, (CU Nursing Associate Professor and Director of Midwifery Services) Jessica Anderson (DNP ’17, CNM) and her team fought to get the students back. Also, we could manipulate the schedule and give the students the hours they needed. We were able to do it just by jamming them in with really high-quality preceptors.

What do you enjoy about the director’s role?

So, I went to the midwifery school right here at CU Nursing from 2013 to 2015, and I felt like the specialty director at that time was really connected to who we were and the type of midwife we wanted to be. I like being able to provide that gift to these students and make them feel important, and try to make it not be so much about grades but what knowledge they need to do the job well.

Is midwifery a growing field?

It has to grow, right? Because there has been a maternity care shortage for a long time. Colorado is tricky because there is a more serious maternity care shortage in the mountains and rural parts of the state, so we have to find a way to get more midwives there. Midwifery needs to multiply to improve outcomes.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and we camp a lot with my husband. We have a lot of really great friends because we’ve lived here a long time. I’ve skied my whole life, and we’re finally teaching my daughter to ski – which is pretty exciting.

Topics: Faculty