Midwifery apprentices: celebrating the first of many

By Heather Bower RCM Head of Midwifery Education and Sally Ashton-May, RCM Director Midwifery Policy and Practice on 20 March 2023 Maternity Services RCM UK Education Apprenticeships Midwives Midwifery Workforce NHS England MSWs - Maternity Support Workers

Last week we joined fellow RCM colleagues and RCM Chief Executive Gill Walton to attend a landmark celebration at the University of Greenwich. We were there to celebrate graduation of the first three-year midwifery degree apprentices in world, and watch them take that final step to becoming midwives.

Health Education England developed the Registered Midwife Degree Apprenticeship (RMDA) in 2018 with a vision to create an alternative route into midwifery that would support a wide range of applicants. It provides an opportunity to earn while you learn and enables people with a real desire to become a midwife to bring the knowledge, skills and experience gained as maternity support workers (MSWs) with them on their career journey.

The passion and pride in the room were evident and we are delighted to have been part of that, supporting this journey since inception of the programme. We look forward to watching as this route becomes more widely available across England and in time, across the other areas in the UK.

It was an important day for the apprentices but also for the profession and that was certainly felt by the university representatives, local Trusts, the NMC and other midwifery experts that gathered to witness the first of hopefully many more midwives taking this route. Kerri Eilertsen-Feeney, the Lead Midwife at Health Education England, sent a congratulatory video to the apprentices and each apprentice was presented with a neonatal ophthalmoscope by Gill Walton.

The ophthalmoscope was in recognition that they were also the first students to graduate from the University of Greenwich having completed the examination of the newborn module, which is part of the new NMC Standards of proficiency for midwives.

The RMDA programme at Greenwich was one of three pilot programmes, funded by Health Education England, offering a new route into midwifery. Apprentices recruited onto RMDA programmes are predominantly existing MSWs, and this route enables them to continue being paid by the Trust while they study.

The benefit to the Trust is that they are local, mature employees, who are likely to stay in the Trust after they have qualified as a midwife. They also have a good understanding of what it’s like to be a midwife before they start and are more likely to stay, both as an apprentice on the midwifery programme and after they qualify as a midwife. They qualify with the same NMC registration and degree outcome as any other midwifery student.

The RCM is currently funding an evaluation of the pilot RMDA programmes and of other universities who have offered the programme since, which is being conducted by Professor Richard Griffin from King’s College, London. The evaluation will be published in the spring, but initial results are very positive. So far, there is almost no attrition of apprentices from the RMDA programmes, which is a different picture to the more ‘traditional’ routes, where approximately 20% of students leave during their three years of undergraduate study.

Only five universities are running RMDA programmes, but it is hoped that more will come on board once the evaluation is published.

A huge congratulations to the apprentices, the University of Greenwich, lecturers and Trusts who took the fantastic opportunity to pilot this programme. We look forward to many more graduate RMDAs in the future!