Andy is a newly-appointed midwifery lecturer in the Faculty of Health & Life Sciences at the University of the West of England in Bristol (UWE). He joins the team, which includes other newly-appointed lecturers, at a time of positive change for the midwifery department. He hopes to complement the skill base of the existing experienced lecturers, contribute to developing a new midwifery curriculum, and to maintain links and collaborations across Bristol to enhance the student experience.
Following Andy’s perhaps non-standard pre-registration route into midwifery, he has had a successful career, and until recently worked as a Band 7 midwife coordinator at the busy St Michael’s hospital delivery suite in the centre of Bristol. He has managed to fit in a brief psychological counselling diploma, research activities, and obstetric emergencies training at The College of the Bahamas before his recent appointment in January 2013.
He starts formal lecturing as the undergraduate module leader for the year 2 Complexities of Midwifery Care module beginning in September. Previous clinical experience will serve him well for the module, but he realises this is a challenge which involves much more than just knowing his subject.
Future plans? This year he plans to successfully complete his post-graduate qualification in teaching in higher education, and prepare for module delivery in September. With young children and realising that retirement is not an option, his long-term vision is to raise the profile of research within the midwifery department and to follow a higher degree in health care.
MIDIRS: So Andrew, you have a huge amount of experience working with women and their families prior to becoming a lecturer. Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m a Cornishman and live in Bristol with my wife, also a midwife, who I met whilst we were studying midwifery, and of course my two beautiful children. My initial career and passions were in the geological sciences, from which I gained my PhD on work in the Pyrenees mountains, and which led eventually to conducting post-doctoral research throughout Yemen in the early 90s. Then through a combination of factors I was lucky to be able to make the radical change to midwifery in my early 30s, and now nearly 20 years later I’ve moved into midwifery lecturing!
MIDIRS: What made you decide to make the jump from clinical midwifery in the NHS to becoming a midwifery educator at UWE?
Not such a strange ‘jump’ as the first but I have spent 15 years as a registered midwife, the last six years as a delivery suite coordinator on a busy delivery suite. This was during one of the busiest periods for the UK and South West, in terms of birth rate, for two decades. Latterly I became involved in maternity research, working as a research midwife for NIHR (National Institute for Health Research), and also with a multidisciplinary research team of midwives and obstetricians at Southmead Hospital under the PROMPT (Practical Obstetric Multi-Professional Training) foundation and the RISQ group (Research into Safety & Quality). Working with such a vibrant group renewed and stimulated my interest in research and academic pursuits.
So the move from clinician to educator simply makes more formal what I enjoyed doing in practice. I am now able to transfer my current clinical knowledge and experience to educate and hopefully enthuse a new generation of midwives.
MIDIRS: How long have you been in the maternity field?
In total over 18 years in maternity, and I have now come full circle. My midwifery training started at Glenside in 1994, then a three year diploma course, and that is where I am now based as a lecturer. I qualified as a midwife in 1997 and have been at St Michael’s hospital in Bristol ever since.
MIDIRS: What made you decide to become a midwife?
I have always considered that a job title doesn’t define you as a person, we all have latent skills which are never or hardly ever expressed; ‘Geologist’ doesn’t say anything about the other skills I have, the innate skills. So I pursued my geology career until I was in my early 30s and then with a combination of pull and push factors I changed careers. One of my sisters, also a midwife, suggested that I apply for midwifery. I thought if she felt I had the qualities for the job then I would give it a shot, then 20 years later I’m back where I started.
MIDIRS: Has being a man in a female-dominated profession ever caused you any problems?
I think on balance I would say no. But training as a student midwife was and remains a stressful time. The course is highly demanding and requires resilience. I wrongly assumed that the many obstacles I faced as a student were due to my gender. However, in talking with other (female) students from my cohort we had very similar problems to overcome; it wasn’t about gender, it was about becoming a midwife. Being a midwife is a particularly challenging profession whatever your gender. There have been women that have not wanted me to look after them for cultural and other reasons, and that is their choice. But by and large I think the majority of women I care for feel safe and are happy with my care and skills as a midwife.
MIDIRS: Which areas of maternity care or research interest you the most?
I have a keen interest in the complexities of pregnancy, improving quality of care, and teaching practical clinical skills associated with obstetric emergencies.
MIDIRS: What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
The biggest challenge as a coordinating midwife on delivery suite was managing the capacity of the unit to cope with the increasing numbers of pregnant women presenting both in labour and with problems. The ability to simultaneously balance midwives available for care, their skill mix, maintain high standards, monitor what was going on in each delivery room, keep delivery suite flowing, safe, and keep a sense of humour, that was the biggest challenge. Now I am a newly-appointed lecturer and not yet fully fledged. But the biggest challenges in the university setting relate to very similar issues: maintaining high standards, in terms of quality of midwives for the NHS, and the quality of experience for students. As lecturers we need to manage this with much larger cohorts of student midwives, four or five times larger than the one I trained within, and against the performance measures set by the university and government.
MIDIRS: Despite all the difficulties facing maternity health care professionals and educators, what has kept you motivated?
The motivation, apart from the fast cars, expensive clothes, and fat bonuses (literally), just has to be the amazing people I work with. Dedicated, professional, caring, smart and sound members of humanity…‘Midwives’.
MIDIRS: Which of MIDIRS services do you find of most benefit in your role of midwife?
MIDIRS is a particularly useful reference source. Browsing through journals in the library, which I used to enjoy doing, has reduced since digital collections have been acquired and physical copies have all but disappeared, so I look to summaries of relevant research material like MIDIRS to keep current.
MIDIRS: When you are away from work, how do you spend your time relaxing?
Work-life balance is not something I do well. When I was a clinical midwife, work was all encompassing. If I wasn’t at work my time was taken up working on research activities, and family life. Embarking on this new academic career I have much to learn and it feels like starting again, so initially less time for relaxing. However, I am beginning to adjust and feel my brain has again some spare capacity which could lead anywhere.
MIDIRS: And finally, if you could give one word of advice to newly-graduated midwives, what would it be?
Midwifery is about communication, communication, communication – with colleagues, with medical staff, with women and their families. Pregnant women are highly perceptive so keep your communication skills attuned, work to high standards, develop your abilities to be resilient, calm under pressure, intuitive and compassionate. You may have seen it all before but never forget the importance of the journey or the moment for the parents.
With around 30,000 students and 3500 staff, the University of the West of England is the largest provider of Higher Education in the South West of England. It offers over 600 courses at undergraduate, postgraduate and short course levels, and is in the top 12 universities for lowest levels of graduate unemployment.
The Department of Nursing and Midwifery at Glenside campus has an excellent reputation for quality teaching and research. The Department has strong links with external NHS Trusts and Primary Care Trusts and voluntary agencies, including well-established networks for Department and Trust staff to meet and collaborate on a number of issues. Academic staff from the Department collaborate with partners across the health and social care sectors in research, practice development and education initiatives. We encourage the active participation of clinicians at all stages of the student journey, from recruitment to programme evaluation.
Glenside campus provides a unique and peaceful setting for students to follow the theoretical aspects of their chosen course. Teaching for all modules is through blended learning, which uses a variety of teaching techniques and presentational styles to embed learning, from podiums to podcasts, from workbooks to work-based learning days. Students can consolidate their knowledge base by developing their practical clinical skills in safety, on sophisticated, state-of-the-art adult and child manikins in a purpose built simulation centre.
Photos: Andy Yelland