Standing on the shoulders of research giants

By Jenny Cunningham, Research Advisor Midwifery Research

Midwives – what do you think when the word ‘research’ is mentioned? To some it will start the brain whirring with ideas and questions about practice. For others, it will produce feelings of trepidation! When I spoke to RCM members about research at the RCM’s annual conference last year, some said they found it boring and others expressed genuine fear.

At the RCM, we believe it’s time to end the negative perceptions of research. None of us could do our jobs – whatever our role in maternity services – without standing on the shoulders of researchers who came before us. We want to find ways to support and encourage midwives to think about undertaking research as part of their career, which is why we are not only holding our first ever Research Conference, in Leeds today (Wednesday 11 March), but we will also be launching a new RCM research strategy later in the year.

Our research strategy will be an action plan detailing how the RCM will support midwifery and maternity services research. At a recent meeting of Scottish midwife researchers and academics, I heard a lovely analogy. The early career researcher needs to be incubated in a womb and the RCM would be the placenta, acting as a conduit and providing research nourishment. This role of placenta or conduit will include providing enhanced content on the website, with links both to funding opportunities as well as to helpful resources. We will also be showcasing midwife researchers, giving them a space to share their inspirational stories.

Although we’re full of ideas, we also want to hear from you, RCM members. Should the RCM set research priorities and use these to influence funders and policy-makers, for example? Would a short list of research priorities, highlighting current gaps in evidence, be helpful for midwives new to research? We want to encourage midwives and MSWs to think about their practice, to grow their confidence in using evidence and help shape the culture in their places of work. Improving care for women and their families is what we all strive to do, and research can and should form the bedrock of our practice. Midwife research is different to obstetric research and we need to ensure our voices are on an equal footing.

Research is not only about clinical practice. The way we shape, develop and support our workforces is influenced by research. Making sure our maternity services are well-resourced and that staff feel valued is crucial to the safe care of women. Research to demonstrate how this can be delivered is more important than ever, with chronic NHS underfunding in real terms and high vacancy and sickness rates, alongside external challenges like Brexit.

I hope that today’s research conference will help the RCM to light the fire of excitement around research, not only among those in the room, but across our membership. We want research not only to be a source of inspiration, but also a career opportunity, so that one day future midwives may be standing on our shoulders.