Five Years Out: A NYC Midwife, Natalia Richey ’11

The series “Five Years Out” catches up with Bowdoin alumni to learn what they’re up to and where they’ve been since earning their diplomas in 2011.

nataliaricheyIf someone had told Natalia Richey ’11 during her first year at Bowdoin that she would one day be working as a midwife at a big city hospital, she would have laughed. “I would have said, ‘no way!’ I didn’t know much about midwives, and didn’t know they worked in urban hospitals, taking care of thousands of moms,” she explained.

As a teenager, Richey wanted to become a doctor. With this in mind, she set about taking chemistry and biology classes at Bowdoin. Yet fairly early on in her time at college, Richey found herself drawn to anthropology classes, particularly ones cross-listed with Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. Through her exposure to global feminist issues, Richey said she became increasingly drawn to women’s health. Eventually, she added gender and women’s studies to anthropology as a double major, in addition to her minor in chemistry.

At Bowdoin, Richey also got involved in the Women’s Resource Center, and trained as a sexual assault advocate. (Her first position after graduating from college—and before going to graduate school at Columbia University—was an internship at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, where she worked as clinic coordinator.)

Working with the underserved
In the summer before her junior year, Nicole Richey received a grant through Bowdoin’s Preston Public Interest Fund to intern for nonprofits in Peru. She split her time between the Andes and the rain forest, working with indigenous communities. In the mountains, she helped support “baby care houses” that provided nutritious food and education to young children while their parents worked. In the rainforest, she worked with healthcare providers offering medical treatment to isolated communities. “I’ve always known that I wanted to help serve underserved populations” Richey said. “But it resonated with me even more than before, as I could especially see the immense need for women’s health services and the difference it would make in these communities.”

Despite her growing interest in anthropology and women’s issues, Richey was still determined after her sophomore year that she would go to medical school. That is, until she was invited to shadow healthcare providers at a small hospital near her hometown on the North Shore of Massachusetts. One day she was assigned to observe a midwife. “I was completely floored,” Richey remembered. “I had a massive epiphany.” Drawn to the care-taking aspects of midwifery, Richey said, “I really wanted to do hands-on healthcare…and delivering a baby is obviously really hands-on!”

Today, Richey works with a team of 12 midwives at New York City’s Bellevue hospital, the oldest public hospital in the United States. She was introduced to the hospital during her second year at Columbia University School of Nursing, which placed her at the hospital for a one-year clinical rotation. “I couldn’t have been happier,” Richey recalled. “It was a wonderful population, with many Spanish speaking patients.” Richey spoke Spanish before learning English because her mother is Peruvian. “I feel very Peruvian, very Latin, because that is how I grew up,” she said. The hospital offered her a fulltime job at the end of her rotation.

According to Richey, the hospital treats anybody who walks through the doors, no matter their financial resources, medical insurance situation, or immigrant status. This policy aligns with her desire to provide healthcare to underserved populations, a leaning she’s had since childhood, when she was affected by travels with her parents to rural parts of Asia and South America.

It’s been about 18 months since Richey started working full-time at Bellevue, and she just delivered her 150th baby. She says it is her dream job. “Every day on the labor floor is exciting and challenging, yet incredibly rewarding,” said Richey. Her favorite aspect of her job is “providing comprehensive healthcare and compassionate midwifery to people who need it the most.”

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