The Carolina community’s light dimmed in fall 2021 when Katherine Nell Acierno, an undergraduate nursing student at the UNC School of Nursing, passed away after being hit by a car. In her 21 years of life, Katherine — who was to receive her nursing degree in May 2022 — left behind a brilliant legacy filled with love, compassion and friendship.
That legacy will endure thanks to the Carolina Nursing Katherine Nell Acierno Women’s Health/Doula Scholars Program, which was established by Katherine’s parents, Vince and Beth Acierno, her brother Avery, and other devoted family members and friends. This program honors her memory and recognizes her professional passion.
The Doula Scholars Program will support Carolina Nursing students who, like Katherine, serve as doulas in the Birth Partners volunteer doula program at UNC Medical Center.
While some scholars may come to the program with previous doula training, many complete the School of Nursing’s service-learning elective, Supporting the Childbearing Family. During this class, students complete professional birth doula training and begin service as doulas. Birth doulas provide emotional, physical, and informational support to laboring parents and their partners, before, during and shortly after the birth experience.
Katherine’s own words reflect the joy she found in her work. In a reflection she penned during her maternity and reproductive health clinical experience in the 2021 spring semester, she wrote, “The most important thing I learned during my clinical experience today is that I genuinely think that a nursing career dealing with babies is my calling. I was completely mesmerized looking at my patient’s newborn baby, holding him, assessing him, and interacting with him…” It was her experience caring for new families that inspired Katherine to become a doula and join Birth Partners.