Midwifery educators – visible and valued

By Fiona Gibb, Head of Education, Royal College of Midwives Midwives Education Student midwives

The midwifery staffing crisis has become more apparent than ever. As part of the solution, there are calls to increase student midwife numbers in England with increased student numbers already evident in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in recent years. There is pressure on universities to ensure that students remain on course and enter the workforce in a timely way. For this to be successful and sustainable there needs to be sufficient midwifery educators but, alarmingly, the staffing crisis in practice is also looming in academia across the UK.

Following the Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) Strengthening Midwifery leadership manifesto (2019) and our member educator surveys (RCM 2017; 2020), the RCM sent a freedom of information (FOI) request to all 55 UK universities providing pre-registration midwifery to explore midwifery educator numbers and assess the strategic position of midwives working in universities during 2021. The FOI analysis found that:

  • Only 60 per cent of lead midwives for education (LME) sit on senior management teams. Although it should be noted that some of these are due to being associated with another role, such as Head of School/Dept, rather than it being linked with the LME role specifically. 
  • Only 27 per cent of universities report having professors of midwifery and 25 per cent have midwifery specific research roles.
  • 56 per cent universities had at least one midwifery lecturer vacancy in December 2021 and as a result the staff student ratios vary greatly across the UK.

While it is reassuring to see some LMEs having strategic influence on matters that influence and impact midwifery education, it is evident that education and research roles need vast improvement. 40 per cent of LMEs in our survey do not sit not on their school or university’s senior management team.

It is not enough for midwives to report into senior management; all professions the board or team serve should be represented to promote equity and influence over decisions that may include funding and staffing. The RCM educators survey (2020) found that 76 per cent of educators said there was not enough staff to do their job properly (up from 70 per cent in the previous educators’ survey in 2017). In addition, the workload and unacceptable levels of stress have contributed to only 46 per cent of educators saying they could remain in the profession until retirement, with 23 per cent stating that they wanted to leave their organisation as soon as possible.

A year later, the number of lecturer vacancies advertised suggests there has been an exodus of lecturers leaving or retiring. With the majority of lecturers close to retirement age (RCM 2020) and the compounding impact of a pandemic, this is perhaps not surprising and more work is needed to promote succession planning and career pathways in education and research.

If there are not enough midwife lecturers to educate the next generation of midwives, then the shortage of midwives continues. Long gone are the days of midwifery training and being taught by a sage on the stage. We need a new generation of midwives that facilitate education with a philosophy of using evidence-based practice in the pursuit of developing knowledge together.

Leadership development, especially for academics from underrepresented groups, is needed to make career choices accessible and ensure better diversity amongst future midwifery educators. The RCM recognise this as a call to action and this year will focus on professional development and producing resources to support members and aspiring midwives on their career pathways.