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Midwifery courses give birth to a new career

Bachelor of Midwifery student Caron Spurway and he
Photo: Bachelor of Midwifery student Caron Spurway and he
Whether you’re a registered nurse with a desire to move into midwifery, a secondary student or someone with life experience setting your sights on a career in midwifery, there’s a course to suit, writes Karen Keast.

It is Caron Spurway’s life-long dream to become a midwife.

A mum of nine, the Queenslander had to put her dreams on hold while she focused on raising her young family and also supported her husband, Wayne, in running their first aid training business.

Then, three years ago, Caron began her path to midwifery at the age of 49 when she was accepted into Griffith University’s direct-entry Bachelor of Midwifery degree at its Logan campus.

After two years of full-time study and now completing the final year part-time, and with her children now aged nine to 24, Caron is set to graduate this December and is focusing on where she will begin her midwifery career next year.
“I would really love to work in a local midwifery group practice, where I can focus on continuity of care for mothers as evidence shows this is the best practice,” she says.

The requirement for midwives to have a nursing background was shelved a decade ago, opening up several routes for people wanting to pursue a career in midwifery while also helping to establish midwifery as a profession in its own right, distinguished separately from nursing.

Bachelor of Midwifery degrees have since proven incredibly popular, enabling students who have completed their secondary schooling or people who have had other careers and life-experiences with a direct-entry qualification – no nursing degree or experience required.

However, places at most universities have been limited to well under 100 places each year due to a lack of clinical places in hospitals.

Western Sydney University launched its Bachelor of Midwifery degree this year, with 400 people applying for just 40 places on offer.

Professor Hannah Dahlen, one of the creators of the course who is also a privately practising midwife and spokesperson for the Australian College of Midwives, says the course has proven “very popular” and next year hopes to offer 50 places.

“It’s tough to get into midwifery. The ATAR now is over 90. That’s telling you how popular it is,” she says.

“There’s no lack of people wanting to do midwifery but if we can’t get clinical places in the hospitals we can’t take on more places.”

Similarly, Griffith University’s Bachelor of Midwifery, introduced in 2010, is in high demand – taking in 80 students a year, with 130 full-time equivalent students and just under 341 students in total, with many studying part-time.

If you are unsure whether midwifery or nursing is for you, Professor Dahlen advises it’s easier to enter midwifery through the nursing route - UWS alone offers 1300 places a year for its Bachelor of Nursing.

“What I say to people is if all you have ever wanted to do is midwifery and you are pretty sure you want that to be your career then the Bachelor of Midwifery is for you,” she says.

“If you are not sure and you think you would like to have a versatile career then perhaps nursing is the way for you.

“If you don’t have the marks, and let’s face it there’s not many people with ATARs over 90, there are other ways – get your nursing first.

“You can do your nursing studies and you can enrol in midwifery the following year as well.

“Or if you would also like to work in say surgical or theatre, you need to do nursing and later go and do your graduate diploma in midwifery.”

For those already working in nursing who want to move into midwifery, every Australian state and territory is different when it comes to post graduate courses in midwifery. Courses also vary from university to university.

Professor Dahlen says while the majority of courses on offer are Graduate Diplomas in midwifery, some states offer a Masters in Midwifery and in others you have to complete 18 months of the Bachelor of Midwifery degree.

Regardless of which route you take, Professor Dahlen says the end result is the same.

“We are not creating two types of midwives here,” she says.

“Midwives who do the midwifery course as under graduates or post graduates have to achieve the same standards.”

Some universities also offer double degrees in nursing and midwifery but Professor Dahlen says those degrees blend two very different philosophies.

“Midwifery is based on a completely different philosophy to nursing. It’s based on a women-centered philosophy and wellness principle,” she says.

“It’s based on empowering women and primary health care principles, promoting people to look after their own health out in the community.

“There are a lot of concepts that are unique to midwifery but there is not a right and a wrong way.”

Professor Dahlen, who followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a midwife and caught her first baby in the Middle East at the age of 12, had no choice at the time but to study nursing before moving into her midwifery career.

“When I did nursing, I had a lot of very good nursing skills which I then had to undo as a midwife,” she says.

“In midwifery, we are very much focused on and encouraged continuity of midwifery care and knowing a person through their nine months of pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.

“In nursing you are running around and doing tasks that you have really got to kind of unlearn in midwifery – to just sit with a woman in labour and just be there.”

Professor Dahlen says many people embark on careers in midwifery for a variety of reasons.

Some have had their own childbirth experiences, good and bad, others have been at a relative or friend’s birth, worked as a doula or in providing breastfeeding advice, while some are nurses who want to focus on midwifery after a rotation in the midwifery unit.

Others have become passionate about the profession after watching the BBC period drama Call the Midwife, believed responsible for sparking a 25 per cent rise in midwifery applications in England alone.

“I think there’s a level of idealism that we have about midwifery and babies and cuddling babies,” Professor Dahlen says.

“When I ask, why are you here and why do you want to be a midwife and they say they want to cuddle babies, I say - that’s not your job; that’s the mother’s job to cuddle their baby.”

Whatever your reason for wanting to pursue a career in midwifery, Professor Dahlen says there’s never been a better time to become a midwife.

“When you have all of the battles some of us older midwives have fought to get midwifery to where it is today, the young midwives are coming into such an opportunity,” she says.

“In many ways I wish I was starting my midwifery again.”


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords