Midwives have always engaged in continuous professional development (CPD), as the ability to acquire knowledge and skills after completing a pre-registration midwifery course is key to professional development of a midwife (Burrows et al, 2016; Massimi et al, 2017). The Nursing and Midwifery Council ([NMC], 2019) highlights this by stating that midwives must engage in ongoing education and professional development opportunities, and ‘know how to find information about possible paths for career developments including opportunities for postgraduate courses and scholarships.’
Earlier in 2020, the NMC launched the transformational midwifery standards alongside the hashtag #FutureMidwife. These standards are set to equip future midwives with the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours to meet changing, and often complex, individual needs and choices. However, there are many avenues and choices midwives may take in the development of their own learning In this article, two academic midwives explore what is available for midwives to engage in postgraduate study.
Primarily, upon registration, many preceptorship programmes support midwives to undertake the Newborn and Infant Physical Examination programme, if this has not been completed as part of the pre-registration midwifery course. Practice Assessor training may also be available as part of a CPD programme. As for the motivational drivers to undertake further higher education, Burrows et al (2016) identify these as both personal and professional. Personal factors include the need to be academically challenged and to continue in education. Professional drivers relate to career progression opportunities, encouragement from the workplace to undertake postgraduate study and the desire to engage in research to inform and impact on practice.
Advanced education for midwives as autonomous practitioners is essential to provide high-quality, safe and effective care. Several higher education institutions offer Master level courses in Advanced Professional Practice or Advanced Clinical Practice. These courses provide underpinning knowledge and theory to enhance clinical skills and decision making. By including academic and clinical based assessments, midwives are then able to apply the theories and knowledge to practice. There are also opportunities for clinically based midwives to follow a PhD path to complete research that will impact on an aspect of practice. Indeed, some employers will fund midwives by offering Research Midwife posts to facilitate this career pathway. With a view to career progression, some midwives may also opt for management or leadership courses to pursue specific specialist roles within their chosen career pathway.
Management and leadership
Many hospital trusts employ specialist midwives in specific roles such as ‘Bereavement Midwife’, ‘Infant Feeding Specialist’, ‘Lead Midwife for Mental Health’ or ‘Ultrasonography Midwife’. Postgraduate courses are offered in many institutions to support the specific learning required to undertake these unique roles. Many trusts also support midwives to undertake management courses, as this will enable them to face challenges on a more strategic level (Massimi et al, 2017).
Leadership opportunities include the consultant midwife role, which requires postgraduate education at Masters level and/or doctoral level. This is because expert clinical experience, critical analysis and decision making are all essential for this leadership role. Furthermore, leadership roles can impact policy making decisions at a strategic level. Therefore, postgraduate leadership courses are essential to enable midwives to remain part of the ongoing conversation and review of maternity services.
Many midwives choose to follow practice development roles to support students and especially newly qualified midwives to develop their skills and knowledge, and apply them to clinical practice. Undertaking postgraduate education to fulfil this role often leads the individual to consider a career in academia.
Research and education
The transition from clinical practice to education and/or research can be challenging. Yet Foster (2018) outlines the positive aspects of being able to apply and embed clinical activities into the curriculum. Scholarly activities are encouraged, supported and considered essential in lecturer roles, which may also require postgraduate Certification in Higher Education. Opportunities to complete a professional Doctorate or PhD can also be undertaken, as research is essential in progressing the evidence-base for midwifery practice. Each institution will have its own support system for ongoing education. For examples, at Coventry University, the Centre for Excellence in Learning Enhancement has a remit that includes supporting a number of PhD studentships, which midwives can access to help facilitate and support their professional development. The newly created Centre for Care Excellence for Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions, also based in Coventry, will further enable and support staff to conduct leading edge, multi-professional and collaborative research.
Massimi et al (2017) acknowledge that financial support is a key motivation for midwives undertaking postgraduate studies, and a lack of funding can prove challenging. However, midwives can obtain fees from their employers for courses that are vital to their role. The Royal College of Midwives (2018) offer further guidance and information for scholarships, bursaries and grants available for midwives to support their education and research through their Career Framework. Burrows et al (2016) also consider the individual's perceptions of their ability to complete postgraduate study as a challenge to success. However, whilst academia can be challenging, higher education institutions offer academic writing support to help overcome this, especially when completing written assessments. Additionally, the protection of a work/life balance and study time may always prove challenging.
The #FutureMidwife standards define the knowledge and competencies that midwives must have to enable them to provide safe and effective practice reflecting the ever-changing environment in which midwives work in enabling them to promote excellence as a colleague, scholar and leader. This will require a corresponding provision for academic advancement in higher education. Here, we have touched upon how higher education programmes can enable midwives to enhance their careers. Midwives must now embrace the opportunities available to them.