Interested in becoming a midwife?

What does a midwife do?

When people think about about midwives, they often think about birth. They picture a midwife assisting a woman as they give birth to her newborn baby. This is a vital part of a midwife's work, but the role includes so much more.

A midwife is usually the first and main contact for the woman during her pregnancy, throughout labour and the early postnatal period. Midwives are responsible for providing care and supporting women to make informed choices about their care. They carry out clinical examinations, provide health and parent education and support women and their families throughout the childbearing process to help them adjust to their parental role. The midwife also works in partnership with other health and social care services to meet individual needs; for example, young adults, women who are socially excluded, disabled and from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Midwives are responsible for their own individual practice and have a statutory responsibility to keep up to date with current knowledge. The title ‘midwife’ and the function of a midwife is protected in law. For more information visit NHS Health Careers.

How midwives work

Midwives work in all health care settings in urban, remote and rural settings; for example, in the maternity unit of a large general hospital, in smaller stand-alone maternity units, in private maternity hospitals, in group practices, at birth centres, with general practitioners and in the community.

The majority of midwives practice within the NHS, working with other midwives or as part of a small team, with other health care professionals such as obstetricians, neonatologists, anaesthetists, general practitioners, health visitors and support staff. There are also a small group of midwives who practice within social enterprise schemes. Midwives provide woman-centred integrated care, which requires them to work shifts over 7 days of the week including day and night duty. Many midwives have on-call rotas and work both within a hospital or community setting such as birth centres, midwifery led units and a woman’s home.  

Career prospects

Once registered, midwives can progress their career in clinical practice. For example in specialist midwife roles in perinatal mental health or public health, education, for example as a lecturer working in universities, or practice education, research, undertaking and supporting research projects, leadership and management, clinical governance and supervision. Midwives may choose to undertake further post registration education and study at masters or doctorate level. See the RCM Career Framework for examples and case studies of midwifery career pathways.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a midwife

You can become a midwife by undertaking a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved degree course and university leading to a midwifery qualification with NMC registration. The EU (European Union) requires that the degree is no less than three years, which is equivalent to 156 weeks full time in education and practice.

Another route into midwifery is through a programme called the Pre-registration Midwifery Short Programme. This is at a minimum of a bachelor's degree. This is for registered nurses on the adult part of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register who wish to undertake an additional programme of education and gain a second professional registration. The course comprises a minimum of 80 weeks full-time education and practice.

A list of universities that provide the pre-registration degree in midwifery and the pre-registration short programme can be found on the NMC website.

The minimum requirement for degree courses is two A levels but each university will have its own specific criteria, so it is best to check with the individual institution.

Application to the long course (at least three years full time) degree route is through the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). If you are applying to do the shortened programme you can currently apply directly to the university. Whichever route you take, you will gain a degree and once you're registered with the NMC, you'll be able to practise as a midwife.

Entry is very competitive, and many students have qualifications and experience higher than the minimum requirements.

There is no “short cut” into midwifery, even if you have a degree you will still be required to complete either a three-year programme or for registered nurses (adult) an 80-week programme.

Further information can be found at www.nhscareers.nhs.uk.

Places on NMC approved degree programmes in midwifery at universities are currently purchased by the NHS. The number of places is decided by the NHS and based on perceived future workforce needs. The RCM is campaigning to increase the number of midwives in the NHS.

Currently all student midwives must be supervised by a qualified midwife, mentor, during their clinical experience which is at least half their training programme. If you have too many student midwives in a maternity unit they would not be able to get sufficient experience or support.

Although there is a national shortage of midwives, the competition for course places is really tough. It is not unusual for there to be 1,000 applicants for 30 places. The better qualifications and experience that you have, the better your chance of securing a place.

You will need to look at the university that you wish to apply to. It is advisable to attend any open evening/open day events they have for midwifery, as this is a great opportunity to gain information about the course and its specific requirements. It will also give you the opportunity to meet current students and discover what the course is really like. You may also get to speak with the midwifery lecturers to find out if you like the way the course is structured, where your clinical placements are likely to be and how much support you can expect when in placement.

Obtaining some work experience in a maternity unit or in a health or social care setting may also be helpful, as is having a conversation with a midwife. It can give you a better view of what the midwife's role is, and can help you to develop an understanding of the wider health issues. It may also cement or make you reassess your plans to become a midwife. Some people seek employment as a support worker, and this can be helpful in giving you an opportunity to work alongside midwives, women and babies, and this gives a picture of what it might be like to be a midwife.

When you have received all the application documentation, it is important that you make every effort to complete the form correctly, neatly, legibly and truthfully. Make a copy and complete a draft first. It is a good idea to then get this looked at by someone else for spelling mistakes and errors and then, when you are happy with it, complete the final form. It is a very good idea to keep a copy of this, as during your interview you are likely to be asked questions about your past experiences and any statements you have made on your application.

You will need to prepare a very strong personal statement to highlight the personal qualities and skills that would make you a good midwife. You will not be expected to be an expert on what a midwife does, but they will expect you to have done some preparation. Consider what skills and qualities a midwife needs and then identify what skills and experience you have that will be of relevance.

Applications for degree programmes should be submitted to the UCAS in the autumn of the year before the course starts.

If you are invited for an interview, you should make some time to prepare for it. You should be given some information about what it will entail. Interviews vary, but often involve some general discussions, group work and role play. Some universities ask you to complete a timed written essay on a topic which you should have been given information about prior to the interview. You may also be asked to complete a short maths test to demonstrate an understanding of basic maths.

As well as the above, there will be a one-to-one interview, usually with at least two interviewers who are likely to be a university lecturer and a practising midwife.

To give yourself your best chance during this interview, you should prepare in advance so that you are well informed about recent news related to midwifery, infant and other health care-related issues. This might mean watching the news and reading the papers for a few months beforehand and looking on the internet for useful websites. There are websites for women who are pregnant or who have recently had babies; these websites might give you an insight into what motherhood is like if you have not experienced this for yourself, and if you have, what it can be like for others.

All of this preparation will ensure you have a good understanding of the role of the midwife and what support they can offer new parents. Then, if you are asked what a midwife does, you will be less likely to respond “delivers babies” but will instead be able to demonstrate that you have a sound understanding of what the role actually involves.

The courses are demanding as you will be undertaking academic study whilst also working clinical shifts. You therefore need to be able to demonstrate that you have an understanding of the rigours and demands of the course, that you are able to organise your time effectively and that you have as much support as possible from your partner, family and friends.

You will need to demonstrate an understanding of what constitutes care and support in a formal, statutory environment, such as the NHS, as well as those formed from community initiatives. It is important that you are aware that the role and responsibilities of qualified nurses are different from those of qualified midwives. This is quite a complicated issue which revolves around what the midwife is legally able to undertake on their own responsibility (‘professional autonomy’), without needing medical direction or consent.

As mentioned earlier, the competition for every midwifery student place is immense. It is important to maintain perspective and treat the entire application process as a positive learning experience. Try to get some feedback from the university if you can and then address their comments and apply again. Persistence is key.

As you might imagine, many people are applying to get some work experience prior to applying for a midwifery place. The best way forward is to contact the Head of Midwifery Services at your local maternity unit, and request a placement or shadowing opportunity, providing details of name, address, age and school. We recommend that you make it very clear that you are interested in pursuing a career in midwifery, and what point you are at in terms of that journey. This puts you at an advantage over someone who makes a request because they are generally interested in working in a hospital or with babies.

Placements will vary in length – you may be offered a day or a couple of days, or a week of experience, perhaps even more. It depends very much on the volume of other people, and whether there is a midwife that you can shadow and observe. Another choice would be to find a placement that would illustrate your skills in communication/working with people etc., then you can show how you would apply those skills to maternity care. Things like volunteer work can be really useful, especially as it helps to build confidence in talking to people.

In England, unless self funding, all new student midwives are required to take out maintenance and tuition loans.  

For information about funding, please visit these resources: 

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