Midwives are regulated health professionals who work in partnership with women, providing or supporting continuity of midwifery care throughout the woman’s childbearing experience.
- Regulatory authority
- Professional body
- The role of midwives
- Midwifery as a rewarding career
- Exploring your options
- Opportunities in midwifery
- Training in midwifery
- Funding for midwifery training
- Career planning
Midwives can choose to work within a community or hospital setting. All work collaboratively with other health professionals when necessary to meet any additional medical, health or social needs of mothers and their babies.
In addition to monitoring the health of the mother and baby, midwives offer information and education about all aspects of pregnancy, birth and parenting. Midwives support women through pregnancy and labour, and have a wide range of responsibilities from identifying high-risk pregnancies and seeking specialist support to supporting new mothers to care for their babies.
The New Zealand College of Midwives accepts the World Health Organisation Definition of a midwife, as adopted by the International Confederation of Midwives 2005, and the International Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians 2005, which reads:
“A midwife is a person who, having been regularly admitted to a midwifery educational programme, duly recognised in the country in which it is located, has successfully completed the prescribed course of studies in midwifery and has acquired the requisite qualifications to be registered and/or legally licensed to practice midwifery.”
The Midwifery Council of New Zealand is the regulatory authority for midwives. Under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, the Midwifery Council has the responsibility to set standards for undergraduate education, regulation and ongoing competence for the midwifery profession.
The New Zealand College of Midwives is the professional body for midwives and provides professional representation, quality assurance, ongoing education and professional development, research and communication and promotion.
The role of midwives
Midwives have taken care of women throughout the entire childbirth experience from the earliest times. In Roman times the midwife was well respected as a medical professional and was remunerated accordingly. Today’s midwives are specialists in normal pregnancy and birth and, through their education in both hospital and community settings have the knowledge, skills and experience to identify when things are not progressing normally, refer to their medical colleagues in these instances and provide emergency care if needed. In New Zealand whether the birth is complicated or normal a midwife is present for almost all of them. Midwifery is the mainstream system of care for women in New Zealand during pregnancy and childbirth and New Zealand’s midwife-led maternity system is recognised internationally for its model of care for mothers and babies.
Midwifery as a rewarding career
Midwives occupy a special place in the lives of the people they care for. The job is both rewarding and demanding and requires patience, clinical skill, empathy and emotional resilience. Helping to create a new family and support women in the journey of becoming a mother is a special privilege and with that comes tremendous responsibility. Most midwives have had previous careers and life experience and have an ability to remain calm under pressure, work flexible hours and adapt to the different cultural and social needs of mothers and babies.
Exploring your options
Midwifery is often described as a vocation rather than a job. It is rewarding and challenging and may at times be confronting. Before you decide to become a midwife you might want to explore the options and decide if it’s right for you. With more than 80 different careers, working in health has something for everyone. That's not counting the number of opportunities there are to specialise in a particular clinical profession or the range of options available in management and administration positions.
Opportunities in midwifery
There are a number of opportunities for those pursuing a career in midwifery in New Zealand. It is a flexible role that can evolve throughout a working life. A midwife offers support, care and advice on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenthood. Midwives may work in the community or in a hospital maternity unit. As a Lead Maternity Carer (LMC), a midwife is responsible and accountable for the care provided to a group of women and their babies, providing care throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and postnatal until the baby is 6 weeks. Most of this work is in the community in women’s homes but midwives also provide care for women in maternity units when they are in labour. Other midwives choose to work in a maternity unit working shifts. There are further opportunities for professional development within all these areas of practice.
Training in midwifery
To become a midwife you will need to complete the Bachelor of Midwifery. This is a three-year full-time course (equivalent to a 4 year degree) offered at a number of tertiary institutions throughout NZ. Each year comprises 45 weeks of study instead of the usual 36 so if you have other commitments it is important to factor this in. You may study part-time, however this is not encouraged by the undergraduate schools and the programme must be completed within 4 years. All of the schools have satellite programmes so that students from provincial areas can easily access the programme. It is essential to be able to communicate effectively and applicants must meet English language entry requirements.
The blended midwifery programme is the result of collaboration between Otago Polytechnic and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT), two schools delivering the same programme with each offering satellite programmes relevant to their geographic base. Otago Polytechnic has now also extended into selected parts of the North Island. This programme allows greater access for students of midwifery by offering online study with face-to-face tutorials combined with local midwifery practice experience.
Funding for midwifery training
Undergraduate midwifery education is funded through the Tertiary Education Commission, although students will be required to pay tertiary institute fees for the duration of their enrolment. For those wanting to study midwifery at postgraduate level, once they have become registered midwives, funding towards the cost of fees is available from Health Workforce New Zealand. All New Zealand registered midwifery graduates are provided with mentoring from an experienced midwife under the Midwifery First Year of Practice Programme.
If you would like to consider practising midwifery in an area of high need, see if you are eligible for the Voluntary Bonding Scheme. This Scheme was developed to encourage graduates to expand their experience by moving into specialties and communities where they are needed most.
There is additional funding available for midwives who would like to support midwifery services in rural areas. The Rural Midwifery Recruitment and Retention Service RMRR, is funded by the Ministry of Health and is a joint collaboration between the New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCOM) and the Midwifery and Maternity Providers Organisation (MMPO). You may like the idea of practising rurally but don’t want to commit to a permanent change; if so, becoming a locum might be right for you. If you are already a rural midwife and would like to pass on some of the knowledge you have gained you could provide mentorship for a rural midwife.
Planning your career as a midwife can help ensure you get the most satisfaction from your working life and will also allow you to identify areas of practice in which you excel. Part of this process involves identifying what interests and motivates you, what inspires you and how you see your career developing. Read more about career planning for midwifery.