A few days ago I was sitting on an aircraft on my way to the International Confederation of Midwives 30th Triennial Congress in Prague. In an effort to reduce my pre-flight anxiety, I was chatting to the person beside me, who happened to be the father of three young children, one of whom was only a few months old. At some point during the long delay between taxi and take-off, I revealed that I was on my way to attend an international midwifery conference. In my experience, when parents of young children find out that I am a midwife they often share their birth stories, express their opinions about midwifery care and sometimes share fond memories about their experiences with midwives. This time I was quite surprised by the candid response “they sure have conferences for just about everything these days”. I tried not to gasp but was compelled to respond with a marketing pitch about midwives. As an American, he may not have been as familiar with midwives or midwifery practice due to significant differences in pregnancy models of care in the United States. I explained that the ICM is not just another conference. This year it is a gathering of over 3000 midwives from all over the world to share research and ideas about “Midwives, Improving Women’s Health Globally” – which happens to be the conference theme.
Midwifery is my passion. I have lived and breathed midwifery and midwifery research for almost 25 years. How could a father of young children not realize that midwives are a critical part of the healthcare system contributing to the health and well-being of mothers, children and families around the globe? As we talked further I discovered that he had never met a midwife, did not realize that midwifery required a high level of education, and thought that midwives were an “alternative” form of pregnancy care for women who wanted to birth at home. He was quite surprised when I explained that aside from having tertiary level education, midwives work in many different settings, including hospitals, birth centers, primary care clinics and women’s homes, just to mention a few. I briefly outlined that research clearly demonstrates the benefits of midwifery care in more ways than I had time to explain before the plane would be at cruising altitude and we would be swept into the in-flight entertainment. I did the “take off” pitch for midwifery care in the hope that this father would share the information with others and spread the word for midwives.
It is easy to assume that everyone knows about our profession and how we contribute to the health of our communities. It may be that we get swept up in our professional lives, sharing new information with each other, including at our professional conferences. It is easy to forget that we need to share new evidence about what we do with our patients and the wider community. We need to continue to seek ways to educate our patient community about the role nurses and midwives can play in optimizing their health throughout their lives. Professional nursing organisations are increasingly recognizing the importance of not only serving their members but in educating the general community about what we do, how we are educated and what current research actually shows about the value of the services we provide. For example the American College of Nurse-Midwives launched a publicity campaign titled “Our Moment of Truth” with the aim of educating women about nurse-midwives and their role in women’s health throughout their reproductive lives, not just for pregnancy care.1 This national awareness initiative consists of an interactive web-site and tools to support women as well as to re-introduce the value of midwifery care to US women. There are numerous resources for women as long as they know that the web-site exits.
Of course, we don’t always have professional marketing flyers or fact sheets at our fingertips when we need them for an impromptu community education announcement! So aside from professional advertising campaigns and web-site tools, we all need to be ready for the “elevator pitch” when someone wants or needs to know more about our profession and what we can do for them. It is also important that, when we have good evidence that nursing and midwifery care can improve health outcomes and satisfaction with healthcare experiences, we are prepared to share it with the people who will benefit from that care. That means we not only need to stay on top of the current research about our profession and our models of care but that we should know how to communicate a quick and effective message to the general public about it, whether on a plane, in the supermarket or even socializing with friends. You never know when the opportunity will come up or when you will be asked the question “what is a midwife?”
I hope that my fellow passenger went home and told his family about meeting a midwife on the way to an international midwives conference so that they can go on to share the message with others that midwifery care is research-based and that midwives are highly educated professionals who work in many settings.
As I listen to the research and clinical practice issues being discussed this week from around the globe, I am already thinking about the new messages I am hearing about the important role of midwifery in promoting health and protecting the lives of women and babies. I am almost hoping someone will ask me on the return flight home “what happens at a midwives conference?” This time I will be armed with new evidence and a rekindled fire that comes from attending a conference with 3000 midwives!
Allison Shorten RN RM PhD
Yale University School of Nursing