Despite regularly making headlines for too heavy a workload and staffing shortages, according to statistics, midwives are among some of the happiest and most satisfied workers in the UK. In between antenatal care, labour and looking after anxious fathers, we caught up with Charlotte Brignall, a Senior Midwife at King’s College Hospital, to find out what life delivering babies really entails...
How does a day as a midwife start?
I work three or four 12-and-a-half-hour shifts a week which start at either 7:15am or 7:15pm and finish at 7:45pm or am. This allows for a 30-minute handover (when we’re allocated who we’ll be looking after) at the beginning and end of each shift so we can update our colleagues. I normally arrive at work just before seven either for some breakfast or, if it’s a night shift, a big bowl of pasta– you never know when your next chance to eat might be.
How many women do you look after at any one time?
It depends – if I’m looking after someone already in labour then she will be my sole patient until she delivers. However, working in a busy London trust, there are times when you care for two or three women – they may be being induced or in hospital if they are not well (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc). On top of this, I also work on a large antenatal and postnatal ward where I will care for between seven and eight women per shift, as well as their babies, meaning I can often have up to 16 patients at any one time.
What else are you responsible for during the day?
As well as caring for women at all stages of pregnancy, midwives often find themselves multitasking with a whole range of skills – counselling women; working within a multidisciplinary team with doctors, neonatologists, social services, pharmacists, porters; breastfeeding support; advocating for women; bed managing and looking after the partners.
Do all midwives work the same hours?
No – community midwives work five days per week, including weekends and bank holidays, from 9am to 5pm. They are responsible for running antenatal clinics and visiting women at their homes in the postnatal period.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Watching families grow and change – whether it’s their first baby or their eighth.
And the most challenging?
Unfortunately, due to the pressures of the NHS (and the busIness of a large south London hospital), there are times when the wards are so busy it’s difficult to provide the care women need. This is why good time management and the ability to prioritise one’s workload are so important as a midwife.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I’m not sure I can single out one particular highlight. Birth is such a magical process; every single one is special and different in its own way but it’s always rewarding when you hear you have made a difference to a woman’s experience.
Has exposure to childbirth put you off giving birth?!
Quite the opposite. I have always wanted children and although I will know far more than most, it has definitely not put me off.
What kind of person makes a good midwife?
There are so many different aspects to being a midwife as well as a lot of different areas to work in but ultimately the midwives I know are kind, caring, respectful and work hard to provide women with safe and effective care.
What qualifications did you need and how long did it take to train?
Training to become a midwife is an undergraduate degree that takes three years to complete. Where I trained I had 50% of teaching in the classroom and 50% in practice in a hospital working with qualified midwives. You have to deliver 40 babies as a student midwife in order to qualify as well as theoretical essays. It’s hard work but worth it in the end.
And what about salary?
A newly qualified midwife’s salary starts at £21,909 per year excluding payment for unsocial hours and on-call time; a midwife has the potential to earn up to £82,000 as a Senior Manager or Midwife Consultant.
For more information on becoming a midwife, visit HealthCareers.NHS.uk