A registered midwife is uniquely placed to support the needs of childbearing women and their families. A common misconception held by many applicants is that midwifery is all about the care of babies. However, the primary role of the midwife is to support women during the normal childbirth process, and also ensure that women who have more complex health needs receive the care most suited to them from other members of the multidisciplinary healthcare team.
The International Confederation of Midwives defines the midwife as:
“a responsible and accountable professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labour and the postpartum period, to conduct births on the midwife’s own responsibility and to provide care for the newborn and the infant. This care includes preventative measures, the promotion of normal birth, the detection of complications in mother and child, the accessing of medical care or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures.”
The role is therefore diverse, flexible, and must be responsive to the unique needs of individual women and their families. Much more than delivering babies, midwives play an important role in health promotion, antenatal education and reproductive health.
Students complete a pre-registration programme, consisting of an undergraduate degree in midwifery, before registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). This process enables midwifery practitioners to apply for work, which means they can begin to provide care to women in a variety of settings, including maternity units, birth centres and women’s homes.
A registered midwife is accountable for her practice and adheres to the NMC Code and Midwives’ Rules. These are important legislative frameworks that serve to guide and regulate the practice of registrants, ensure that professional standards are maintained, and therefore maintain the safety of the public. Becoming a midwife is therefore a responsibility not to be judged lightly.
Salary & benefits
A newly-qualified midwife working within the NHS starts on a band 5 salary scale and receives around £21,000 per year. Midwives are usually able to progress quickly to a band 6 salary scale, around one year after qualifying, depending on certain conditions.
High cost areas, i.e. London and parts of the South East will attract additional salary supplements.
Although career progression will obviously affect salary prospects, pay/pensions for nurses and midwives will always be fairly modest.
Midwives working in clinical practice in a typical maternity unit will do shift work around the clock, including weekends and bank holidays. Community midwives can enjoy a more ‘normal’ working day, for example 8:30-16:30, but will have to share on-call commitments within their teams.
If you’re ‘on call’, you could work your normal day and then be called out in the night to a homebirth, or to help out at a short-staffed maternity unit. For midwives working in education or research, the working day will be more ‘normal’.
Since midwifery programmes are at undergraduate level, certain entry requirements will apply that are broadly similar to other degree-level courses. Although the NMC stipulates certain criteria for admission, each university has the freedom to set its own entry requirements that could be based on, for example, local demand and widening participation.
Entry criteria are usually based on the UCAS tariff system. For example, a typical offer of a place at university could be based on 280 points, so it’s important to check the entry requirements before you apply, as these will vary between universities.
As well as Level 3 qualifications, candidates usually need to have GCSEs in English and/or maths, and/or science. Again, it is possible to meet such requirements even if you don’t have traditional qualifications, or have been out of education for some time.
One example is the Access Diploma, a course that is usually offered by local further education colleges and offers a Level 3 equivalent programme, plus the opportunity to complete GCSE equivalent modules in English, maths or science.
Competition for midwifery places can often be intense and therefore candidates would be wise to consider how else to strengthen an application. For example, evidence of adult care experience can frequently be an asset, especially where a candidate can relate the skills learnt to a midwifery context.
Training & progression
Completing a midwifery degree programme can be very demanding, both physically and emotionally. Unlike other degree programmes, doing midwifery means that students spend equal amounts of time in clinical practice and university.
The aim of a shared programme of this kind is to enable student midwives to relate the theoretical basis of childbirth to the actual practice of caring for women. Sometimes this can be difficult, though, as the two don’t always match up.
As well as university lecturers who are experienced midwives themselves, students are supported in clinical practice by mentors. These are suitably experienced clinicians who work with student midwives and support their learning while they’re in the clinical environment, assess their practice, and ‘sign them off’ at the end of each year of training. This means that students follow their mentors throughout a clinical placement and therefore work the same shifts, including nights and weekends.
Assessment in practice is guided by the NMC’s document ‘standards for pre-registration midwifery education’. As well as regular assessment in clinical practice, student midwives also have to be assessed in theory, i.e. you need to understand ‘why’ as well as ‘how’.
These types of assessments can include examinations, essays and presentations, and must all be successfully passed before progressing through and completing the programme.
Once all this hard work is successfully achieved, the options for career development as a midwife are endless, and include opportunities in clinical practice, education, research and management, both in the UK and abroad.
Written by Sarah Snow, MSc, PG Cert (Teacher Health & Social Care), BSc (Hons), DPSM, RM, RGN.
Senior Lecturer @ University of Worcester
Like to know more? You can buy Sarah’s book Get Into Nursing and Midwifery at a 20% discount here: www.pearson-books.com/SarahSnow