The road was never going to be easy

By Sarah Jennings on 11 September 2010 Student midwives

After three years of study and training at the University of Chester coupled with relocation, direct-entry midwife Sarah Jennings finds herself employed in a consultant-led unit. Here she describes the highs and lows of university life, and provides some top tips on applying for and getting a job.

The transition from student to newly-qualified midwife (NQM) is one that creates varying emotions in all involved. For the university, it’s a sense of academic achievement, to your friends and spouse ‘you deliver babies now’, to your cohort colleagues, you’re the new face of the NHS with the drive to amend all that is wrong with maternity care.  For myself, I found a manifestation of fear, anticipation, nausea, uncertainty and a predominant lack of sleep the night before my first shift as an accountable practitioner. Completing the course alone is an achievement. It is exciting to think you are now classified as a professional clinical practitioner with the eligibility to apply for NMC registration.

Experiences of university life

University life often felt like an endless rollercoaster of alien-type lingo with looming deadlines and one semester rolling quickly into the next. As the first year ended, I began to feel that there was a level of matrimony between clinical and theoretical practice. University was a confidential sounding board where concerns could be discussed and ironed out.

Before undertaking my training, I had achieved a degree in media studies, so from an educational point of view, I felt prepared for the heavy workload, timetable of work and deadline constraints. What you can’t prepare for is the balancing act required to master working three days in clinical practice and two days’ university time when undertaking NHS shift patterns. Professional and personal lives become intertwined and balancing them seems impossible – your tutors are aware of these stresses and can be a good source of support.

Exams and assignments

The university workload was at times intense. Weaving in and out of studying, time was spent on the special care baby unit, gynaecology and outpatients departments, as well as accident and emergency. When in clinical practice, my mentors would assess me on a regular basis with objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) and skills drills. As a student, there are guidelines to adhere to – further advice can be obtained from the NMC's Guidance on professional conduct for nursing and midwifery students (2009).

The guidance (NMC, 2009) outlines the importance of good time-keeping and communication skills, behaving in a courteous manner at all times (in and out of work), adhering to uniform policies and taking responsibility for your own learning. As a member of the NMC, it is important to be aware that your conduct, both during your training and in your personal life, may have an impact on your fitness to practice, your ability to complete your training and the willingness of your university to sign the declaration of good health and good character for you to become a registered midwife (NMC, 2009).

Finding a job

As my time as a student was coming to an end, the inevitable job hunt was fast approaching. Surely after being trained by my NHS Trust for three years, getting a job would be the least of my worries? Year in, year out, there are reports of understaffed maternity units nationwide – how wrong I was. Midwives they may need; money and the ability to grant jobs, they did not. It just didn’t make sense that after all that hard work and £40,000+ of taxpayers’ money, I was struggling to find positions within the five NHS Trusts in my vicinity. The Trusts were only offering bank posts to NQM. The disappointment can seem endless, but websites like NHS Jobs and the RCM’s Midwives Jobs clearly outline suitable employment. When suitable jobs were advertised, I telephoned the named contact, so I could introduce myself and ask for further information – if you don’t do it, someone else will.

Application and interview process

During my final year, I spent time working on my curriculum vitae, but by the time the session was timetabled at university, I had already had a job interview and accepted a position. From my personal experience I would stress, do not wait. You have to make yourself stand out on paper and in person – if your application is strong enough to get you to the interview stage, they have already seen something they like in you. The interview is an extension of this – you should make the effort to research the Trust, look at available statistics for delivery rates, what services they offer and any improvements they have in the pipeline. This is more than just a job – it is the starting block to your new career. I was asked around ten directed questions at interview – why should we offer you the job, why do you want to work at this Trust, what is the role of the supervisor of midwives and when might you access her/him, what do you understand by clinical governance and then scenario-based questions such as how to manage a postpartum haemorrhage, or deliver a breech presentation.

Interviews are a two-way process – you have as much need to ask questions of them as they do of you. I found the interview panel often asked if I had any questions. If they have covered everything, ask them to expand further on certain areas. Preparing at least one question provides further discussion during the interview. I usually asked about the Trust’s preceptorship programme, its length and what the induction period included.

I have succeeded in qualifying with my midwifery wings and began service in the NHS at a Trust where to heighten my fear factor, I did not train; but due to limited options, I relocated for the job. Kramer’s (1974) work on ‘reality shock’ elucidates the specific shock-like reactions of new workers when they find themselves in a work situation for which they have spent several years preparing for and, when the time arises, they suddenly find they are not clinically prepared (as cited by van der Putten, 2008). This is most certainly how I felt. Do not fear though, such feelings of uncertainty and trepidation do reduce.

Having undertaken the diploma, I am now ‘topping up’ to degree level in my own time by undertaking the dissertation module. Working full time and consolidating practice simultaneously is difficult in itself; but I do enjoy having continuous links with university life and theoretical practice. Powell (2005) discusses that it is important to present the fact that the completion of training heralds the start of profession-long learning and developing, adapting knowledge and expertise. As an NQM, I will soon undertake a practice supervisory with my supervisor of midwives, from which we will be able to discuss further goals to be attained within the next 12 months.


NMC. (2009) Guidance on professional conduct for nursing and midwifery students. 
NMC: London.

Powell A. (2005) Starting as we mean to go on: supporting newly-qualified practitioners.

British Journal of Midwifery 13(11): 726.

Van der Putten D. (2008) The lived experience of newly-qualified midwives: a qualitative study. British Journal of Midwifery 16(6): 348-58.