Becoming a midwife

A midwife does more than just deliver babies. Because she is present at every birth, whether at home or in hospital, she touches everyone's life. A midwife is usually the first and main contact for the expectant mother during her pregnancy, and throughout labour and postnatal period. She helps mothers to make informed choices about the services and options available to them by providing as much information as possible.

The role of the midwife is very diverse. She carries out clinical examinations, provides health and parent education and supports the mother and her family throughout the childbearing process to help them adjust to their parental role. The midwife also works in partnership with other health and social care services to meet individual mothers’ needs, for example, teenage mothers, mothers who are socially excluded, disabled mothers and mothers from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Midwives are responsible for their own individual practice and have a statutory responsibility to keep up to date with current knowledge. All midwives have a named Supervisor of Midwives to assist them with updating their knowledge and to ensure their practice is safe. It is the only profession that has statutory supervision to protect the public from incompetent practitioners.

Working conditions and pay
Midwives work in all health care settings; they work in the maternity unit of a large general hospital, in smaller stand-alone maternity units, in private maternity hospitals, in group practice, at birth centres, with general practitioners and in the community. The majority of midwives practice within the NHS, working with other midwives in a team and other health care professional and support staff. Midwives can also practice independently and there is a small group of midwives who do so.

Midwives provide woman centred integrated care, which requires them to work shifts, day and night duty, be prepared to take on-call rotas and travel between hospital or institution and mother’s home. The midwives’ pay and working conditions are determined by the new NHS pay system called Agenda for Change. A newly qualified midwife’s salary starts at £19,166.00 per year excluding payment for unsocial hours and on call rota. A midwife has the potential to £60,880 as a consultant midwife.

What are the entry requirements?
You can enter the midwifery profession directly by undertaking a degree course leading to a midwifery qualification. Midwifery courses are provided by a number of universities. N.B. from September 2008 onwards they will be available as undergraduate programmes only at degree level; the diploma route will be discontinued.

The minimum requirement for degree courses is two A levels. Science subjects are preferred. NVQ/SVQ Level 3, the BTEC National Diploma, or equivalent access to higher education programmes run by colleges of further education, are alternatives. Application to the degree route is through UCAS. You will gain a degree and Registered Midwife qualification.

Entry is very competitive, and many students have higher than minimum requirements; each university has its own specific criteria, so it is best to check with the individual institution.

About the course and qualifications
The degree courses are organised to give you both the theoretical background and hands-on practical experience with women and their families. The length of the course varies between 3 to 4 years. You can access shortened midwifery courses following a nursing qualification if you prefer to do a nursing course first.

The midwifery course is organised in modules, which include biological sciences, applied sociology and psychology, professional practice and others. Each module is assessed, usually through continuous assignments, but you may find universities are reintroducing examinations as part of assessments.

To practise as a midwife you must be registered with the statutory body for nursing, midwifery and health visiting. This is the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The Council maintains a register of midwives. To remain on the Register, midwives must update their knowledge and maintain a professional portfolio as evidence of their updating. To enable the Council to know which midwives are practising, all practising midwives are required to notify their intention to practice on an annual basis.

Would a career in midwifery be suitable for me?
Midwives need to have a number of qualities in order to fulfil their role. The public expect a midwife to be:

- intuitive, kind, caring and objective;
- able to act as an advocate for women and take responsibility for her own actions;
- a good team player, and to work in partnership with other professionals;
- flexible and adaptable to mothers' circumstances and needs;
- prepared to look after all women, irrespective of class, creed, economic status, race or age;
- accepting of women and the circumstances in which they live;
- professional, and to maintain accurate and contemporaneous records.

What are the future prospects?
Midwives have an opportunity to work in different health care settings, and gain experience in all aspects of caring for mothers and babies. Midwives have an option to develop their midwifery career in many different ways. It may be as a clinical specialist as a consultant midwife, or in management as a head of midwifery services or supervisor of midwives at local authority level.

Some midwives prefer to pursue an academic career in education and research. Midwives have developed innovative specialist roles for example, in ultrasound, fetal medicine, intensive care neonatal units, public health, parenting education and many others. The opportunities are endless in the health service.

There are also opportunities for midwives in work in the European Union or overseas with Voluntary Service Overseas.

Useful addresses for further information

StudentMidwife.NET (SMNET)
SMNET is a dedicated voluntary team of students, midwives and prospective student midwives who are committed to supporting their peers. The education based online midwifery community is a free service that supports prospective and current student midwives’ educational, developmental, emotional and social needs. To join, or for further information regarding events, educational resources, forums and advice please visit:

NHS Careers
PO Box 2311, Bristol, BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 60 60 655

NHS Careers provides advice and information on all careers in the NHS in England. It also has a database of all universities that provide midwifery courses.

Rose Hill, New Barn Lane, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL2 3LZ
Tel: 01242 223707

UCAS handles all degree applications. As well as information about universities, this site includes a searchable database of university access courses.

Nursing and Midwifery Council
23 Portland Place London W1N 4JT Tel: 020 7637 7181.

The NMC maintains a register of all practising midwives, nurses and health visitors. It is a statutory body and is there to protect the public, hence it has a role in investigating allegations of professional misconduct and negligent practice.

The Royal College of Midwives
15 Mansfield St. London W1G 9NH.

The Royal College of Midwives exists to protect the professional interests of midwives and to advance the art and science of midwifery.

NHS Student Bursaries
Hesketh House, 200-220 Broadway, Fleetwood, Lancashire, FY7 8SS

Student helpline: 0845 358 6655

Further information about bursaries, and contact information for other countries within the UK, may be found at the NHS Careers financial support page.

Detailed information may be found in the booklets published by NHS Student Bursaries: these are updated each year, and may be downloaded from their website.

A practical guide and information for refugee midwives

During the summer of 2003, the Independent newspaper's education section carried a series of articles on aspects of midwifery as a career:

Dame Karlene Davis (RCM):
Midwifery is a progressive, modern profession which is responsive to clients' needs

Kate Hilpern:
New help for helping hands [health policy]

Justine East:
A chance to go back to the future [return to practice]

Justine East:
Expecting a delivery by male? [male midwives]


The Independent of 31/01/02 also carried an article reprinted from School Leaver Magazine (31.6):

Sue Jacob and Carol Bates (RCM)
Baby talk ...Beryl Dixon in the Independent of 02/09/04 has an extended article on midwifery as a career:The baby business

Updated August 2007 - Francine Allen and Sue Jacob

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