Meeting new challenges – students’ perspectives

By Amy Yorath, Cardiff University and Rachael Dewey, Edinburgh Napier University, Student Midwife Forum coronavirus Clinical practice Maternity Services Student midwives SMF - Student Midwives Forum

In the current crisis, many final year students have suspended their studies and entered the midwifery workforce. Here, two members of the RCM Student Midwife Forum (SMF), Amy Yorath of Cardiff University and Rachael Dewey of Edinburgh Napier University, share their experiences.

Both Amy and Rachael are based in hospitals where they’ve previously had placements. This has definitely helped, according to Amy. "Everyone is really supportive for the most part. Even though we're not supernumerary any more I have still been allocated a mentor," she says. "I've had most shifts with her, and I enjoy that continuity. She's been really supportive and encouraging."

Rachael agrees. "I have a mentor, I feel supported and I'm familiar with my placement environment. Being non-supernumerary seems scary in theory but in reality I'm still being supervised, mainly indirectly as a third year but then directly when there are clinical skills I need to learn or develop!"

However, it's not been plain-sailing for all students. "There have been some negative comments made to members of my cohort about the current situation with students," Amy adds. "During the quieter periods, there had been some comments from staff over whether students are needed or if we should be paid as not much has changed for us in placement."

"That's really interesting that there might be some thoughts that we're 'not needed'," interjects Rachael. "At my hospital, student midwives joining the workforce are really appreciated as maternity services are unable to anticipate how busy it might get. I have felt really welcomed."

There have been concerns raised by students entering the workforce about a lack of clear job descriptions and contracts. While Rachael was placed on the payroll even before starting her placement, Amy's experience has been very difference. "As of now we don't have contracts and we haven't had recent updates regarding our pay. There seems to have been confusion in this area. I'm just hoping we are able to resolve it sooner rather than later, otherwise we may miss the deadline for the end of May and might have to wait until to the end of June to get paid from work starting at the beginning of April!"

Of course, working in practice has to happen alongside continuing studies for many midwifery students, including Amy and Rachael.

"We are working 30 hours a week in practice and then have a dedicated seven-hour day each week for theory," says Amy. "I've found the workload itself to be manageable: it’s my personal circumstances which make it more challenging. Like a lot of students, I have children and it is really tough making sure they have what they need while I'm studying."

"I think that's the key part," adds Rachael. "It's not that midwifery students can't manage the work but it's the change in circumstances for many which make it much more difficult than usual to complete theory work."

Despite the challenges, though, both are finding this a positive and valuable experience. "Having these extra months in practice will increase our confidence and feeling of competency in the different areas," says Amy.

Rachael also wonders whether this may influence future thinking about how midwifery education is delivered. "Perhaps training for students will be looked into, as this approach has shown that our training can be flexible and we can be paid for the work we do."