Keen to improve standards of care for women and babies, Alys Gower describes her internship at WHO.
Cardiff University had just started its journey towards becoming a WHO Collaborating Centre when I was on my first delivery placement as a student midwife. I spoke to a group touring the unit about my life as a student, and one of them, the technical advisor for midwifery, addressed our student body about the importance of a strong midwifery presence in international healthcare. It was motivating to hear about WHO’s work to improve standards of care for women and their babies around the world, and I was eager to get involved. That’s how I found myself moving into a small convent in Geneva (it was cheap!), having been accepted on a six-week internship with WHO’s department of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.
All interns at WHO work on an individual project; mine was on breastfeeding. This involved a desk review on potential gaps in global education standards, which I presented to department heads. My supervisor also ensured I could attend partnership meetings with international organisations such as the International Confederation of Midwives to see how health policy is organised and funded, and observe how WHO guidelines are produced. I went to seminars on topics such as Zika, obesity in pregnancy and mental health, and I was introduced to many people I admire, including inspirational women from the young midwifery leaders programme and experts I had been citing in my university essays. I contributed to ongoing projects, including the launch of the Midwives’ voices, midwives’ realities report in 2016, and helped to update a breastfeeding room for staff. Interning is no small feat and the weekly party we interns held on the roof, drinking from a box of wine and basking in the view of Mont Blanc was well deserved.
The experience strengthened my practice. I now have a greater understanding of the work that goes in to producing guidelines and of the collaborative effort between academics, experts and international agencies. It also developed my knowledge of research, academic midwifery and international health policy. The insight into global midwifery has shown me the significance and privilege of being a midwife and the responsibility this brings to work with other countries. I have been able to do this back at Cardiff University by working with the WHO Collaborating Centre, which seeks to strengthen midwifery in Europe. It is a direct link to the wider world, enabling us to advocate for all mothers and their babies.
If nothing else, this experience has taught me that collaborative effort is how we can effect change.
Alys Gower qualified in September 2017 and is now a midwife at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff
For details on internships and voluntary work placements, visit bit.ly/WHO_interns
Contact the Cardiff University WHO Collaborating Centre for Midwifery at WHOCCmid@cardiff.ac.uk