The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a... student midwife?"

baby

Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.

As we are fast establishing throughout this blog series, there is a vast range of jobs out there all with different entry requirements. Some jobs require no training at all whilst other require years of study. There are jobs where you can only enter with a degree and those in which it is wholly possible to move through the ranks from an entry level position. Today we are looking at a career in which academic study is absolutely necessary for professional registration - midwifery.

And it’s a hugely competitive career to get into, make no mistake. In the 10 years I’ve worked as a careers adviser I’ve seen a massive rise in the amount of students wanting to break into this career area and, consequently, a rise in the entry standards expected by universities.

Today we are hearing from Charlotte, a student midwife currently in her 3rd year of the 3 year midwifery degree programme which will gain her professional status. Her interview is able to focus not only on the intricacies of the job itself but also the realities (and challenges) of juggling academic study with vocational placements - something that every prospective midwife will need to go through.

Thank you Charlotte, and best of luck for the career that awaits you J


So, briefly, what is your job?

“As a student midwife I spend most of my time on placement with qualified midwives. We also go into university for a week every few weeks. I’ve had placements on delivery suites, postnatal wards and with community midwives seeing women at antenatal clinics and with their babies once they’ve given birth.

A midwife’s job is to be the lead professional looking after a woman through an uncomplicated pregnancy, birth and afterwards. Most women don’t see a doctor other than their GP through the whole process. Midwives also work with hospital doctors and other professional groups to provide care for higher risk women and babies.”

How did you get into it?

“The course is a B.Sc degree so you need some kind of prior qualifications. Some of the women in my cohort have come straight from A levels (usually science A levels at A and B grades) but the majority did an Access course as they are mature students like me.

I got my place because I’d just finished a DipHE in a related subject (antenatal education) and persuaded the lecturers that I knew enough science to start the course despite not having any qualifications in it.”

Describe a typical day.

“No such thing! A day on placement on delivery suite might start at 7am when I meet my mentor for “handover” where the night midwives tell the day staff about the women on the ward and we decide who will look after which one. As a student I have to “catch” 40 babies before I can qualify so if there’s a woman who looks as if she’ll have her baby in the next few hours we’ll usually go to her. I then work with my mentor to provide care for the labouring mum, everything from setting up drips and giving injections to the important stuff like talking to her, rubbing her back and reassuring her partner! When a baby is born I get to see that face before the parents do, that’s an incredible privilege. Being able to say “your baby has dark hair” or whatever, it’s brilliant.

After the birth we give care to her and her baby, making sure that both are adapting well to what has just happened. We also have an insane amount of paperwork to complete before we can send her home or to the postnatal ward.

That’s just one type of day. In a short (8 hour) shift you’d maybe do that once. In a long (12 hour) shift you might be lucky and get two births. Other types of day could be in a GP surgery or Children’s Centre seeing women for their 20 minute appointments, or visiting new mothers and babies at home on their first day out of hospital.

University weeks are hard going. I’m surprised by how much more tired I am after a week in school than I am after a set of 12 hour night shifts! We have lots of PowerPoint lectures but also a lot of practical work in the skills laboratories, using models of body parts to learn skills like putting drips in or managing emergencies.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“All the placement work. And seeing my fabulous cohort of fellow students in University weeks.”

And the least?

“The PowerPoint lectures. And the pressure to learn so many new things so quickly.”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“That midwives have to be nurses first - that hasn’t been true for the past 20 years or so. That midwives “help doctors deliver babies”. Well, sometimes yes - but a midwife is an autonomous practitioner which means she has to make her own decisions and stand by them. That it’s all happy; unfortunately pregnancy and birth can also be times of dreadful sadness for some families.

Also that men can’t be midwives - they can. They’re still “midwives” though, the word means “with woman.”

What are the main skills you need to work as a student midwife?

“The academic ability to cope with degree level study. There are a lot of essays and exams and a dissertation in the third year. As well as that you need empathy and compassion by the bucket load, and an ability to be non-judgemental. You need to be physically fit enough to do long shifts and not bothered by blood, vomit or poo as you will see lots of all of those and frequently get covered in some or all.

I’m amazed by how mature the younger women on my course are. When I finished my A levels (a LONG time ago) I was far too self-centred to do a job like this. I think they are the exception and most student midwives are better for a bit of life experience of whatever kind. You also need rock solid support from home, especially if you have young children. Lots of us do, but we’d be stuck without 24/7 child care. You can’t do the course without working nights and weekends so you need to factor that in.

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“At the moment, midwives are paid on NHS pay scales. Most newly qualified midwives are on a band 5 salary, which is the same grade as most nurses. You usually progress to a band 6 after you finish your first year although some places in London start you on a band 6. Management posts are band 7 or above.

The money isn’t why you’d do it though.”

(NB: the current NHS pay scales can be viewed on the final page of this document).

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“It’s not easy, for a number of reasons. The NHS funds the course so you get your course fees paid; this makes all health degrees attractive to students so applications are sky-high for lots of courses. Midwifery is especially competitive at the moment. Probably 1/3 of my cohort are already graduates in other disciplines and that is fairly standard apparently. Lots of us also have post-graduate qualifications.

So the advice is to be ready to get a knock-back or two. Be realistic about whether you can do the course at this point in your life. Can you work nights, weekends, Christmas? Are you ready for the academic side of it? Have you got anything about your own experiences that you need to talk through with someone before you start? Having a traumatic experience brings lots of women into midwifery, but it WILL come back and bite you on the bum if you’re not 100% over it.

More practical advice would be to get some work experience before applying. I worked as a health care assistant. Anything similar is good - ideally as a maternity assistant, but any health work is good. Other options would be to volunteer in children’s centres or baby clinics, become a breastfeeding supporter or visit NCT antenatal classes or pregnancy yoga.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“There are lots of options within midwifery. It’s not just about being core hospital staff working on delivery suite, though I imagine I’ll still be doing a bit of that. I’d like to get into the research/teaching side of it, but it’s early days.”

AND JUST FOR FUN…

First in the office or last to leave?

“I try to be first, but not always. I’m always on time though! Last to leave sometimes, depends how well I’m doing with the paperwork.”

Tea or coffee?

“Tea. I’m a midwife after all. We’re powered by tea and cake!”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“Packed lunch, for sure. Even if you’re working a day shift the chances are you won’t get off the ward for a long enough break to get to the canteen.”

The lift or the stairs?

“Stairs, unless I’m on the top floor. Lift if there’s a bed with a labouring woman involved!”

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Are you mad? Bed every time.”