A student’s perspective of this year’s Royal College of Midwives’ Annual Student Conference.
By Silje Almklow, 3rd year student, Birmingham City University.
This year the Royal College of Midwives’ Student Conference took place at the International Centre in Telford, where close to 500 student midwives attended alongside many experienced midwives from all over the country.
Speakers were brought in both to educate and assist in the transition from student to qualified midwife, as well as inspire and encourage the new ranks joining the profession. As a student in the audience that day I can attest to the success of the conference. Like so many of my fellow students, I left feeling hopeful and enthusiastic about my future as a midwife.
When Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, took the stage to discuss the state of the profession we will shortly be entering, she described with precision the feelings of so many of us. It is both an exciting and a challenging time for midwives in the UK; we are so very privileged to be training in a country where midwives are valued and student places are protected, where midwives are the first point of call and where the needs of women are at the heart of the profession. And yet we can all attest to the strain midwives are put under every single day. Continuity of care is the ideal but so many midwives struggle to provide the level of care that every woman deserves. Although midwifery numbers are rising, the birth rate is at an all-time high and we are all scrambling to keep up. Our futures will be affected by pay caps, changes to our pensions and the prospect of longer working careers. And as a student I am both eager and, at the same time, apprehensive about beginning my career as a midwife, with all that that entails. By the time Cathy Warwick completed her opening address, I am sure my feelings were mirrored by many of the students in the audience.
The Royal College however, knew how to boost morale and offer encouragement and inspiration to those of us who felt the inevitable weight of our chosen profession resting on our, not yet qualified, shoulders. The student conference began by pointing out that the student delegates outnumbered the delegates at the main conference and continued by stressing that the future of the profession is in our hands. There is nothing like a little power to lift the spirit, though the copious freebies handed out in the exhibition hall probably helped as well. The speakers were unified in their message: there are 5000 student midwives in training and we have the power to shape midwifery. That is, if we can find a job once we qualify. We all know there are not as many jobs as there are newly qualified midwives and the competition is fierce. Luckily Scott Johnston, Head of Midwifery at Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals, cheerfully handed out tools and tips to help us successfully land one of the much coveted NHS jobs, whereas Charlotte Elliott, recently qualified midwife and RCM Steward, took the stage and spoke of the privilege it is to finally work as a qualified midwife. Gail Naylor, Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Operations at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, stood as a shining example of midwives who have taken the love of their profession and let it carry them out of antenatal clinics and delivery rooms, to positions of power where they can help shape the future of midwifery. All in all, it was a positive and uplifting morning, after which I could almost picture my future as a qualified midwife.
And then, the crème de la crème of speakers, Professor Sheila Kitzinger took to the stage. The RCM could hardly have chosen a more apt speaker. Professor Kitzinger is an activist for natural childbirth, a social anthropologist and an author, but most importantly she is a believer, in women and nature and the power of the female body to create life. She described labour and birth using the most beautiful imagery and terms, allowing us all to join her in her belief that labour and birth need not be painful and frightening but can instead be ‘awesome’ and ‘thrilling’ and ‘powerful’. She painted a picture where women transcend and become one with the demands of their bodies, where they recognise the sensual aspect of the experience and allow it to become a natural part of labour and birth without shame or embarrassment. Because if the 84 year old is not embarrassed to speak in frank terms about the beauty of birth, why should we be? And she was breathtakingly good. A hush fell over the room when she spoke and I think every student in attendance was captivated by her descriptions of labour and birth. I only hope I am privileged enough to see labour as she sees it and to end my career feeling as inspired as I do today.
The afternoon of the student conference was devoted to contemporary issues. Social media is up and coming, both for private and professional use, and appropriate use of social media is a hot topic in midwifery. Webinars, tweetchats, and online forums are increasingly common and midwives are becoming ever more proficient in their use. Our futures look likely to include online antenatal classes, transatlantic collaborations, and live tweets from delivery rooms. The sharing of information and techniques across borders and oceans will be commonplace and students will be learning from midwives all over the world. The student debate clearly demonstrated the desire among students to update the profession with an increased focus on research-led care, teaching skills for midwives to help reach women antenatally, and family friendly education. The students I met were all bright, motivated and eager to help bring midwifery in to the 21st century.
So how do I feel about the conference? I am beyond pleased that I was able to go because it was a day to remember. The speakers were inspirational, the students were enthusiastic, the midwives were supportive, and the exhibition hall was veritable sweet shop of midwifery goods and paraphernalia. New-age delivery beds with every feature under the sun, medical supplies to make anything from amniotomy to perineal massage a breeze, a host of gadgets for breastfeeding women, and a great many stalls supporting the campaign for normal birth. I know my chosen profession is a hard one, I know I will most likely feel overworked and underpaid in the years to come. Like so many others I have a newfound appreciation of lunch breaks that borders on the unhealthy, and my idea of the perfect shoe is wipe clean, has anti-slip soles and enough cushioning to allow me to stand for 12 hours without pain. And yet I, like so many students at the conference, am imbued with enthusiasm and quiet confidence. I believe that this is a great time to become a midwife. I believe that the appreciation we all hold for the miracle of birth will allow us to maintain a level of normality for all the women in our care, even as they become ever more complicated and high risk. I believe that we have the power to shape our profession and to make ourselves heard. Because the future will, quite literally, be in our hands.