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What do Midwives do Differently than Doctors?

21st June 21

Antenatal care in the UK is made up of a small number of health professionals, all possessing different responsibilities within the team. However, an expectant mother’s health visits during pregnancy will typically be with either a midwife or a doctor.

The midwife's role is inclusive of every aspect of care from pre-conception until 28 days post-birth. Midwives are the main point of contact for expectant mothers, being on hand most hours for anyone who needs to call the midwife, and providing them with advice backed by evidence-based information. A midwife also helps new mothers to make informed choices about the options and services available throughout their pregnancy.

Whereas, the doctor who could be present during pregnancy, labour and after birth is called an obstetrician. Obstetrics is concerned with the care of pregnant mothers, the unborn child, and the management of diseases specific to pregnancy. This speciality combines medicine and surgery.

The midwife is involved in the journey of the new parents from pre-conception to post-birth. Where doctors commonly would not be involved for this length of time. A doctor will usually only become involved in a high-risk pregnancy or where medical complications are becoming apparent.

Both the midwife and the obstetrician are expected to be the experts on childbirth. But their responsibilities are quite different.

It goes without saying that the sole focus of both a midwife and a doctor is for a healthy mother and baby. However, doctors tend to aim for a healthy mother and baby but in a more impersonal way.

If you are considering a career in midwifery and are wondering how your role will differ from that of a doctor, find out more below.

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A Midwife

Midwives focus on mother and baby, becoming heavily involved in the birth, even emotionally speaking. Not that a midwife befriends every patient. But it is commonly felt like a temporary partnership as opposed to a medical professional/patient relationship.

With a midwife, you have a one-stop-shop. Doctors don’t tend to be as personal or nurturing simply because of the volume of people they see, and their role as the ultimate authority. Whereas, midwives take on the role of the authority and the nurturer.

Midwives put you in the driver’s seat

Midwifery philosophy includes:

  • Self-determination and active participation in health care decisions
  • Complete and accurate information to make informed health care decisions
  • Individualised methods of care and healing guided by the best evidence available
  • Watchful waiting and non-intervention in normal processes
  • Appropriate use of interventions and technology for current or potential health problems

Midwives tend to ask expectant parents for their permission/what they would like to do. Rather than tell them what they are doing regarding scans and tests. It is a midwife’s role to advise the parents of the benefits and risks of any treatments.

The midwifery model of care can be efficiently summed up as: ‘Midwives are supposed to respect you as a human being. They ask about your concerns and give you time to talk and will always ask permission before performing any examinations’. 

However, midwife care isn’t appropriate for everyone. A mother might prefer a doctor and hospital birth or their pregnancy might require one. Midwives also can’t perform surgery and will therefore turn down and pass over ‘high-risk pregnancies’ to doctors.

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Becoming a Midwife

There are necessary skills and character traits to become a midwife. Including both personal and academic skills.

The main character traits of a midwife include:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • The ability to cope in distressing situations
  • People skills – being able to answer questions and offer advice
  • A sense of humour
  • An ability to get on well with people from a wide range of backgrounds
  • Emotional and mental strength
  • Good observation
  • An ability to act on your own initiative
  • Patience
  • Maturity
  • Willingness to take responsibility
  • Counselling
  • Listening

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Academic skills

To practice as a midwife in the UK you must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). You’ll be required to complete an approved pre-registration degree programme to do this, which lasts three years full-time.

To become an expert midwife, you will need to be able to understand the emotional, physical, and psychological processes of pregnancy and birth. Through training and midwife qualifications, you will gain an understanding of these.

Your midwifery degree will see you spending half of your time studying at university and the other half based around practical placements. Providing you with the hands-on experience necessary for employment in midwife jobs.

In order to gain acceptance onto a pre-registration midwifery degree, you will be required to meet entry requirements. Not all universities have the same entry requirements, so it would be worth checking with your desired institution before applying for a midwife course.

Typically, entry requirements include five GCSEs at grade 4 (grade C) or above. Inclusive of English, Maths, and a Science. You would also need either two or three A Levels or equivalent.

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An Obstetrician

An obstetrician is a doctor that specialises in care during pregnancy, labour and after birth.

In some hospitals, expectant parents automatically see an obstetrician. In others, a midwife or GP will put a referral in. This is usually if there are any concerns regarding the pregnancy.

However, expectant parents can ask to see an obstetrician if they have any concerns they want to discuss.

Many consultants who work in obstetrics have a special interest in a particular area. Such as high-risk obstetrics, fertility care or minimal access surgery. A small number of consultants work as subspecialists, with all their work concentrated in a specific area of practice.

Common procedures/interventions of a doctor

Most of the care of low-risk mothers and uncomplicated deliveries are performed by midwives. But about 30% of births are undertaken by an obstetrician. Usually for more complex cases or if the baby becomes distressed during labour.

Their work includes:

  • Using instruments to assist delivery – including forceps or a ventouse (vacuum-assisted delivery)
  • Performing caesarean sections, either as a planned or emergency procedure

As an obstetrician, there is no typical day. You could be working in an antenatal outpatient clinic, an operating theatre, a scanning or specialist clinic. Oftentimes, a consultant manages the labour ward.

There are also many opportunities to work within the community. Inclusive of sexual and reproductive health, where there is a significant public aspect to the work. User input in maternity services is very active. Some doctors in this speciality now work completely in the community.

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Becoming an Obstetrician

Before you train as an obstetrician, you would need to complete a degree in medicine.

You would then need to complete a two-year foundation programme. After successfully completing your first year of foundation training, you would become eligible for registration as a doctor with the General Medical Council. Foundation training includes undertaking rotations in a range of specialities including obstetrics and gynaecology.

As with any other career, there is a requirement of skills and character traits. Those of an obstetrician are very similar to those of a midwife and include:

  • Sensitivity and listening skills
  • Emotional resilience and ability to cope under pressure in sometimes stressful or difficult situations
  • Manual dexterity
  • Stamina
  • A sense of humour
  • Excellent communication skills – to relate well to patients and their families
  • Good problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • The ability to work effectivity as part of a multidisciplinary team and alongside other medical specialities
  • Leadership ability

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Study Online

If you are considering either a midwife or doctor career, but do not hold the relevant qualifications, we can help. An ideal equivalent to traditional degree entry requirements is an Access to Higher Education Diploma.

With modules focusing on study skills, it’s the perfect route for those who have been out of schooling a while. Dependent on your final grade, it can also give you between 48 and 144 UCAS tariff points. Equivalent to 3 A Levels.

An Access to Higher Education Diploma (Midwifery) provides you with the foundational knowledge you would need to study for a degree. This diploma teaches you about the roles of the midwife, as well as relevant subjects like biology and physiology.

Whereas, to kickstart your journey to becoming a doctor, or an obstetrician, an Access to HE Diploma (Health Professionals) is a great start. It provides great insight into the healthcare system. So, by the end of it, you’ll be eligible to apply for a place on many health-related undergraduate courses.

learndirect is the UK’s leading distance learning provider. Helping thousands of students each year achieve their potential. Find out more about how our midwifery course can kick start your new career below.

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