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Midwifery Careers - Growing a strong midwifery discipline at Western Sydney University

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Education Midwifery Musings

Written by Deborah Hatcher, Western Sydney University

At our recent presentation to the Council of Deans, Nursing and Midwifery (about Midwives career pathway opportunities), we got talking to Deborah Hatcher from Western Sydney University and heard about the vast array of initiatives that the university have been undertaking related to midwifery.  Deborahs passion for her work and her colleagues as well as all of the work they are doing was heart warming to experience and so we asked her to write a piece for us about why she loves her job and what she and her team are achieving.

We hope you are inspired to think of taking your Midwifery career on a university pathway.


As Dean of the School of Nursing and midwifery (SoNM) at Western Sydney University (WSU) I am very proud of the achievements and international reputation of our midwifery discipline. They are known around the world and are regularly asked to give keynote addresses at national and international conferences. They appear in the media almost weekly as renowned midwifery experts and are regularly sought out for comment. They are also active in social media getting their messages out to other health professionals and the public as the modern day academic needs to do. The team also publish extensively in top journals (Professor Virginia Schmied was recently ranked in the top 10 of nursing and midwifery professors in Australia and New Zealand, by research citations), getting significant exposure, and their publications are referenced and referred to by bodies such as the CDC, UNICEF and WHO. They edit midwifery and research textbooks and sit firmly on the international stage of their discipline.

They have also had long active histories in contributing to the Australian College of Midwives (ACM) in various capacities. Professor Hannah Dahlen, for example has been an executive member of the NSW ACM branch for over 21 years and is a past national President. This year Dr Elaine Burns has become Chair of the NSW Branch Executive Committee of ACM.

We currently have 150 midwifery students undertaking the Bachelor of Midwifery (BMid) or the Graduate Diploma of Midwifery at WSU ably led by Fiona Arundel, our Director of Academic Programs.

Our students are actively engaged with the ACM with three of our students running the NSW ACM Midwifery Mutterings, where midwifery students can gather together and spend time with a midwifery leader and be inspired. One of our midwifery students Emma Hill is now on the NSW ACM executive committee along with one of our recently graduated midwives Meg Hitchick.

Our students have spoken at midwifery conferences and are regular attenders showing active engagement with the profession. We are so very proud of them. Their reputation in the clinical areas is outstanding, with positive feedback received. We are also proud to see several of our recent WSU graduates recently employed directly into the caseload midwifery program at Westmead and Blacktown Hospitals on graduation. We hope this potential is recognised by other hospitals.

WSU - 2017 Cohort + lecturers

Left to right: Dr Holly Priddis, Associate Professor Athena Sheehan, Dr Elaine Burns, Professor Hannah Dahlen, Vicki Kanhere with Midwifery cohort 2017.

Along with traditional hospital placements we offer our students the unique opportunity to spend time with Privately Practising Midwives (PPMs) and be a part of a completely different way of working as a midwife. Our students get the opportunity to attend homebirths with these PPMs (if the women agree) and we are one of the few universities in Australia to provide this opportunity. Having one of our academics Professor Hannah Dahlen as PPM herself has made this opportunity grow from an idea into a reality.

Two of our midwifery professors have governance over large directorate portfolios in the SONM. Professor Virginia Schmied is the Director of Research and Professor Hannah Dahlen is the Higher Degree Research Director (HDR) with Dr Elaine Burns our Deputy HDR Director. Being able to draw on these midwifery academics to mentor and raise the profile of research and HDR in the school as a whole is wonderful. Although the midwifery team is small (8 in total) and the midwifery program is small in comparison to our nursing program they truly shine in the SoNM. For example, this small team supervises over 25 Honours, Masters and PhD students and many of these are leaders themselves in the midwifery profession. The year is only half way through and they have published over 50 papers already in 2018. Much of the research is conducted in partnership with our clinical partners. The midwifery team’s research is regularly disseminated at local hospital conferences and State and National fora.

WSU-H Dahlen J Stevens V Schmied

Left to right: Professor Hannah Dahlen, PhD student Jeni Stevens and Professor Virginia Schmied – Research Futures Forum

We have innovative programs of teaching at WSU in the midwifery discipline with several clinician’s teaching into the program and this enables us to really engage with the services and the contemporary issues, as well as keep ourselves firmly linked into midwifery clinical practice. We have developed some innovative interdisciplinary models of teaching. These include the implementation of oral health care training into the BMid program, a first in the world. This is soon to spread to other universities and will give students a head start on this important health promotion activity. We run an obstetric emergencies simulation workshop each year with the WSU Bachelor of Medicine students. This has had very positive feedback from both medical and midwifery students with some declaring it is the ‘highlight of the course’.

WSU - E Burns H Dahlen V Schmied

Left to right: Dr Elaine Burns, Professor Hannah Dahlen and Professor Virginia Schmied – Writing retreat Mulgoa 

In May 2018, the team initiated an innovative workshop, "Psychosocial InterProfessional Education (PIPE)" bringing midwifery students together with medical, psychology and social work students to increase awareness of and skills in interprofessional collaboration when supporting women and families with complex psychosocial issues in the perinatal period. The midwifery team engaged colleagues in Medicine, Psychology and Social Work as well as clinicians to develop an innovative, simulated learning experience for students. Working closely with the WSU Digital Futures team the midwifery team filmed vignettes of professional-consumer interactions that addressed psychosocial complexities.

The new SWIMMS (Sydney Western Sydney is Mentoring Midwifery Students) project led by Associate Professor Athena Sheehan is a collaboration between WSU and the South West Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD). This exciting project sees WSU BMid students paired with midwives from SWSLHD who provide mentoring in the form of a ‘professional friendship’.  Mentors who have volunteered for the project are provided with training through workshops as well as online and face to face support. A large amount of data evaluating this project has been collected and is being prepared for analysis. Anecdotally however, the program is being positively received overall by both the mentors and the students.

As Dean I am really proud of my midwifery academics and the midwifery students in the SoNM. This group of academic midwives, which also includes Hazel Keedle, Holly Priddis and Leanne Luck, as well as those previously mentioned, are engaged with the profession and our clinical colleagues. Being engaged with their professional body and taking the message into the clinical areas and into the hands of the public makes our midwifery team a real asset to the university and our community.

How we are working with the changing face of maternity care in Australia...

We are proud to also offer one of the few Masters Child and Family Health in the country in collaboration with our partner Karitane that is open to Bachelor of Midwifery graduates as well as Bachelor of Nursing graduates. This opens the career options up for our BMids and we are trying to lead the country with this innovative strategy. You can find out more here