There are several ways to become a midwife, which differ slightly depending on the country you live in. In general, you can pursue a career either as a nurse midwife or general midwife – the difference is in the level of education you will have to pursue to become qualified.
First, though, it’s best to sort out one important question: what is a midwife? A midwife is a specific type of career or nurse who supports a woman through her pregnancy and assists at the birth.
Midwives can be based within a hospital or out in the community, and perform tasks that are related to pregnancy as well as helping with the actual labor. Some midwives run teen pregnancy clinics and other community programs. Midwives provide support after the birth for as long as necessary, and often provide advice on how to care for a baby.
In the US, there are several types of midwives: advance practice nurses, certified nurse midwives, certified midwives, and lay midwives. The training and accreditation for each of these varies from state to state. Certified nurse midwives and certified midwives undergo training in a course approved by the American College of Nurse Midwives. Courses for nurse-midwives may require some prior training such as a degree (referred to as graduate entry). Once the course is completed, midwives can then choose to pursue a master’s degree (some states actually require this before a certified nurse midwife is allowed to practise). Certified midwife courses generally do not require prior training (known as direct entry). Nurse-midwives generally perform a wider range of tasks due to their higher level of training, and work within hospitals.
Lay midwives are often trained on the job and work within the community. They may have undergone an apprenticeship. Some lay midwives either choose not to pursue accreditation or find that accreditation is not available for their specific field of training.
In the UK, midwives are practitioners in their own right, and take responsibility for the care of woman and baby before, during and after birth. They work both within and outside hospital, depending on the circumstances of the birth.
When pursuing a career in midwifery in the UK you need to be a resident for at least three years to be eligible to apply for a diploma or degree course (according to the Royal College of Nursing). Training can take between three and four years. After training, midwives need to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Nurses can also become midwives by completing an eighteen month course after they complete their adult branch nurse training.
In Canada, midwifery was only recently reintroduced as a regulated profession. Midwifes in Canada were quite varied throughout the 1960s and ’70s, and although a midwife may have trained as a nurse-midwife, certified midwife or lay or traditional midwife, after registration all midwives are simply known as midwives.
Midwifery is a very competitive field of study, which only recently became formalised. Check with your local educational establishments, or midwifery registration body for the best approach.