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Integrating public health practice into the graduate's role through pre-registration education

02 May 2017
13 min read
Volume 25 · Issue 5


Public health is now clearly defined in policy and statute as an integral part of the midwife's role and this work continues to develop as health challenges emerge and diversify.

To clarify the knowledge and skills required by contemporary midwives, this article provides an overview of health promotion and public health concepts and discusses how these are embedded in midwifery policy. The approaches and processes midwives should adopt are considered and an analysis of public health learning in midwifery education highlights areas that need to be addressed. This paper concludes with recommendations for midwifery pre-registration education to develop the underpinning public health knowledge and skills that midwives require for optimum practice.

Midwifery public health practice has significant potential for minimising mortality and morbidity in future populations. Many debilitating health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers may be prevented if lifestyle choices and the environmental conditions people live in are improved (Power et al, 2013). This article reviews how public health has been incorporated into the midwife's role over time, and discusses the effectiveness of midwifery education in preparing students for this aspect of their work. We also offer some recommendations for integrating public health theory and practice into contemporary pre-registration midwifery education.

The historical emphasis on the prevention of infectious disease, through access to clean water and safe disposal of sewage, illustrates the medical and social policy roots of public health (Phin, 2009). Epidemiology is closely aligned to public health as it provides data about the factors associated with different health problems (Adetunji, 2009). The notion of ‘educating the public for the good of its health’ emerged early in the 20th century, (Naidoo and Wills, 2009). Early examples include posters and lectures to educate First World War military about venereal disease. These and other education strategies were used increasingly through the 20th century to tackle lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer (Naidoo and Wills, 2009). However, health education methods are often criticised for their ‘victim blaming’ and lack of awareness of the impact of social context on individual's behaviours (Scriven, 2010).

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