A student midwife's open letter
Compelled to share her experience, one student voices her frustrations and concerns.
Today I read a good article about the scandal that is internships and working for free. Well, I have a bigger one for you, if you’d like to listen. I pay to work for the NHS. I am a midwifery student. I want to be a midwife – the student part is debatable. It now costs £9250 a year to become a midwife at my particular UK university. The bursary that supported budding midwives to enter the profession is now gone as of September 2017. I feel compelled to write, I am not an activist, I never have been. Today, however, I need to talk.
‘Midwifery degree’... let’s break it down, it’s not like an ordinary degree – 50% university study, 50% clinical placement, that is time spent in hospital or in the community working alongside midwives. If it doesn’t sound like your average degree, it’s because it’s not.
Monday to Sunday, 24 hours a day or night, you better be prepared to work! When I’m in my clinical placement I work full time, 37.5 hours a week, day and night shifts.
From the beginning you are expected to work and to learn fast. Observations, abdominal examinations, births, it gets thrown at you quick. It’s exciting, it’s exhausting.
I’ve been studying for a little over six months now. What have I seen apart from amazing women and beautiful babies? Unfortunately, exploitation. It’s a terrifying fact to face, but as midwifery students we help to hold up the NHS and now we are paying to do so. ‘Without you I would have gone home two hours late,’ one of my midwives once remarked to me. By the time I enter my third year I will be expected to take over the care of women independently, with midwives supervising at an arm’s length to help me fly, planning and delivering comprehensive maternity care. All of this on a full-time basis. If it sounds like work, it’s because it is.
The system stinks. I said it. At my hospital there is one ‘clinical placement facilitator’ employed to ‘facilitate’ the clinical placements of 56 student midwives. To put it simply, we are easily forgotten. The clinics and hospitals often aren’t expecting us when we turn up to work, there are often not enough midwives to shadow and when we arrive we rarely get continuity. We are promised a named midwifery ‘mentor’, the midwife we work with and who helps us get our dreaded practice assessment documents done. Without signing off the competencies in these lengthy documents, you do not become a midwife. Unfortunately, much like some women who see a different midwife at every appointment, some students end up working with a different midwife every shift. Rules are invariably bent time and time again to allow students to get their competencies signed off, because if they weren’t, we’d have very few students able to qualify.
None of this is new. My mother is a midwife and she smiles a sad smile when she hears that nothing has changed. Except something has changed, we are paying for this degree now. The question ‘what am I paying for?’ has now become a staple of my weary and frustrated cohort of hopeful midwives. Jeremy Hunt announced recently his plan to train 3000 extra midwives and maternity support staff over four years. Just who is going to train these new midwives? And where there is space for them to train is of supreme interest to me, as is where exactly my £9250 is going.