30th October 2019

Reflections – Abbie Rich

Abbie is a student midwife at the University of Plymouth

I’m currently in my third-year of midwifery degree with the University of Plymouth and applied for the programme in my second-year. In all honesty, if you’d told me at the start of my degree that I’d have completed this programme, and the opportunities that have sprouted out of it, I would not have believed you. I was always that girl at school whose report said “very shy, needs to contribute more in class” and this followed me all the way through until my a-levels. I’ve always been a very “keep to myself” kind of person until I started midwifery and discovered my passion.

So why did I apply to the programme? Given the above, you probably think it’s a bit odd I applied. My first-year of midwifery training developed me as a person much further than I ever thought was possible. I saw the degree as a clean slate, and me finally undertaking the degree I’ve been so passionate about for so long! I started off by joining the midwifery society as a committee member, and by the end of my first-year I was the chair. I helped out at many open days and applicant interview days, utilising my own experience to support those starting off in the application process. By the end of the year, I’d also applied and been accepted as a peer-assisted leader (PALs) within my university, where in my second-year I’d support the first-years through their studies. Additionally, as I’d always been very active on twitter, I came across various career options I hadn’t once thought off, and combined with various academic interests I decided that perhaps I could achieve more!

I contacted others who had completed the programme, asking for advice on application but also about what they felt they gained and how it could benefit me. Leadership was a “buzz” word I had heard a lot about, but was unsure on what it meant exactly- did it mean management? Or was it deeper than that? And as it turned out, it was the latter. Leadership in midwifery is paramount to providing woman-centred, individualised care, through our role as advocates for women and their families. I hoped the programme would not only equip me with the knowledge in leadership required, but also an incredible opportunity to mix with other members of the multi-disciplinary team. And as I already held roles perceived as “leadership” roles, I felt these would be vital experiences to relate the leadership theory to.

The application asked me about my vision for my achievements within the next five-years, which I must admit, I underestimated it through my lack of awareness of the wider picture. Therefore, I will outline some of the amazing things I’ve been able to participate in within the last YEAR!

The first two-days in Reading were indescribable, there’s nothing quite like being in a room with like-minded individuals, who are not only passionate and aiming high, but also incredibly down-to-earth and kind. However, on the train journey there, I had this intense feeling that this wasn’t the place for someone like me. I wasn’t a leader? Who was I kidding? Why else would people taunt me that I’ll “never get anywhere” at school? But when I got talking to some of the other students on the programme, I felt like I’d found my people! I had the opportunity to learn more about the roles of varying professions, primarily the allied-health-professions within the group such as occupational therapists, osteopaths, paramedics and speech and language therapists to name a few; as well as some of the branches of nursing such as learning disability nursing, mental health nursing and children nursing. In addition to this, I got to meet four other fabulous student midwives who I ended up staying up very late with, discussing midwifery at length, and it was brilliant! The speakers discussed their journey to where they are, including their leadership journey and self-actualisation. Also- the food was GOOD.

Within a few weeks, I received my coach allocation. The team aim to match you with someone who is similar to you, who could also help you in realising and achieving your goals. I was incredibly lucky to be matched with Carmel Lloyd, Head of Education and Learning at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). Within a month of being allocated, Carmel came to visit me at the University of Plymouth and she told me her professional journey, and an insight into her role at the RCM. We discussed lecturing, roles in education, as well as the issue of student midwife attrition and how we can retain these wonderful students who worked so hard to get on the course. I learnt of the Reducing Pre-registration Attrition and Improving Retention (RePAIR) trial and how it identified a number of issues raised by students, and how the RCM were about to release a survey aimed at identifying the financial issues students faced, to prevent to the government.

We had a project to complete as part of the programme, and alongside three fellow student midwives, we organised an applicant-style day at my university for the incoming first-year student midwives. We provided them with tea and cake (essential!) as well as a welcoming space for questions with the aim of keeping the day centred around them, opposed to us talking at them. This day was designed around what they wanted, and we ensured that they were aware of the variety of support available to them as students. This day was a great success, and has now been taken on as part of the programme! I felt that aspiring midwives are given so much focus and information leading up to applying, and through the application process, but once accepted, you’re left to your own devices and the worries start to set in. I wanted to keep those students’ passions going and remember it when things get tough.

On 10th October, I attended the RCM Consultant Midwives Forum in London, alongside my coach Carmel Lloyd. This may seem a bit random, but what I missed out from the above, was that following a conversation with my personal tutor at university, and undertaking the RCM iLearn Career Framework I had the realisation that my dream role was to be a consultant midwife- combining my passions in leadership, education and research whilst remaining clinical. This day confirmed this for me, as well as enlightening me to the various challenges at board, policy and strategic levels within maternity, and the issue with not all trusts employing a consultant midwife. I learnt that a framework is to be developed, which will hopefully direct me in the future also! And as pictured, I had the opportunity to meet some incredible people in maternity that day! Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer, discussed her vision and focus within leadership in maternity, quality and retention of our midwives as well as the perceptions of midwifery within schools and the media. She went on to discuss the issues of student funding, and that this is an issue that will be addressed. Gill Walton, CEO of the RCM discussed the RCM Leadership Manifesto and the issues they are hoping to address within consultant midwifery.

I didn’t want this reflection to come across as some “name drop here, name drop there, oooo look at me” and I hope it hasn’t come across that way, but rather what is possible when you believe in yourself and try and ignore the imposter syndrome as much as possible! I have developed as a person immensely during this time, including increased confidence in talking to my seniors and feel that it has been very impressionable on me in terms of how I talk and support more junior students. It has really highlighted to me that as a practice supervisor/assessor, and at whatever level I end up in, I want to bring students and support them at every stage. Being a student midwife is TOUGH, the care we provide to women is so rewarding and so often we neglect ourselves. Leadership isn’t about being a manager, it’s about making sure everyone’s voice is heard, it’s about being authentic, a role-model and having a tribe of incredible souls to support you along the way!

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