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Could a career in academia be for you?

Photo: Health Times
It was a lack of good enough grades that lead University of South Australia’s School of Nursing and Midwifery Associate Professor, Jane Warland, to pursue a career in the field. 

“I didn’t really decide,” she says.

“My school results weren’t good enough to get into teaching so I did my second preference – nursing - instead.”

But it wasn’t long before she embraced the role and realised she’s found her calling, working as a nurse for ten years, then a midwife for 20.

“I realised that nurse and midwives do have a role in teaching patients, and so was fairly happy taking on that teaching role within the clinical side of things for many years.

“I loved being a midwife,” she says.

“Every day was different, and the role is very fulfilling. Being with women and their families at a very special time in their lives is a privilege.”
Now a full-time academic, it was a personal tragedy that lead to the pivot in career direction.

“I needed to find answers to why my daughter, Emma, was Stillborn.

“This ultimately led me to a PHD and during my PhD I was given opportunities to teach casually.

“At the end of my PhD I realised I needed to decide whether to continue clinically or take on the role as an Academic.”

After much consideration, she chose the latter.

“I felt I had made a significant contribution to the profession over 30 years of clinical work and that it was now time to give back to the profession through educating the next generation.

“My PhD showed that women with low BP and posterior placenta are at increased risk of stillbirth.

“I had both of those factors, unknown until I published my thesis, but these were risk factors with quite modest odds ratios so only provided some answers.

“I have been on a quest ever since getting my PhD to find further answers for both myself and other parents, and some of these studies have been very exciting.

“I have been part of studies that have established that supine sleeping position is best avoided in pregnancy and why that might be, as well as establishing that it is important for women to report altered foetal activity (different from reduced foetal movements) as an important factor in stillbirth prevention.”

Embarking on a career in academia has enabled Professor Warland to experience a different side to midwifery, forming firm friendships with international stillbirth researchers, presenting at international conferences and being at the forefront of exciting research and development.

“I love it! I am usually busy, but the work is very varied and interesting. I also have a lot of flexibility in hours that I work.

“A typical day involves a mixture of teaching face to face and research, such as writing papers for publication, grant proposals, meeting with collaborators, conducting research.”

Associate Professor Warland says if you love working with people, have a good eye for detail and are passionate about midwifery or nursing, an academic career might be for you.

“I think you do need to be passionate about educating others and it’s very helpful to have a wealth of practical experience to keep students engaged in their learning.”

There are plenty of personal benefits for pursing an academic career. For one thing, it allows you to fully focus on the areas of nursing and midwifery that you love.

As an academic, you can devote all of your research time to areas of specific interest to you.

You’ll also enjoy a blend of autonomy and collaborations found in few careers. Effectively, you’re your own manager, so you organise how you spend your time and where you devote your research.

On the flipside, you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate and consult with like-minded academics and experts in other fields.

But perhaps the most exciting part of working as a nursing or midwifery academic, is the ability to make a real difference to the field, through long-term, extensive research on the issues that matter.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.