To be or not to be, that’s the question

By Veronica Blanco Gutierrez, registered nurse and midwife on 18 April 2023 Maternity Services RCM UK Midwives Midwifery Workforce Research

I write these lines on the train while on my way to University. I am Veronica, and I am a registered nurse and midwife. I am currently undertaking a full-time PhD at the University of Bristol, and at the time of writing for this blog, it has been more than 5 months since I did my last clinical shift. I am having an internal dialogue with myself and mixed emotions almost every day; do I want to continue practising clinically or give myself up to the ‘other side’ and convert myself into a researcher? To be or not to be a clinical academic midwife, that’s the question.

I have been a midwife for 10 years, eight of which I have worked clinically part-time while undertaking different developmental and research roles. Once I tasted what it was like to be a clinical-academic midwife I felt that I enjoyed my shifts more and had a better sense of accomplishment, although we all know this depends on the days and the workload. Having said that, it was not an easy journey.

I remember my first non-clinical work as an audit midwife, with zero clinical contact. I felt like betraying my inner midwife; I felt like cheating. I did not believe I was a midwife anymore. I felt guilty. I was transitioning. Then I started a fellowship in Population Health, and these feelings continued, although less loud because of my previous experience. I felt lucky to have time to have lunch whenever I was hungry; it was also a luxury to go to the toilet whenever I needed to and grab water or coffee whenever I felt thirsty or sleepy. But still, I was not feeling like a midwife.

It was while preparing for my PhD journey when my internal debate started. I was unsure whether to opt for a clinical academic doctoral program or take a career break to fully devote myself to the doctoral experience. I spoke with a few midwifery friends undertaking clinical, clinical-academic and purely academic roles. It was clear to me that leaving clinical practice aside was a privilege for those in a relatively comfortable economic position or willing to compromise their salary for the benefit of protected time and peace of mind. I suppose one of the bright sides of our profession is that we can always return to clinical practice. 

With time, the I-don’t-feel-like-a-midwife feelings went quiet, but now that I have started my PhD journey, they have returned. Although this time, they have not caught me off guard; still, they are not easy to manage. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to meet Sir Professor Michael Marmot in person as a reward for winning a poster award at the Population Health and Health Inequalities Conference in London.

I brought up my internal dilemma, and his experience resonated with me. He spoke about a ‘phantom pain’, the pain for something that he once was but he is not anymore – a practising doctor. However, giving up his clinical career and becoming a full-time academic gave him a better sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Having a foot in both worlds can be challenging.

I want to end my reflection with a quote that resonates with me: respond to every call that excites your spirit. At the moment, research is what excites my spirit, and although I do not have an answer to my opening question, I am making the most of every opportunity.