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Midwifery Schools: Programs and Courses

Not sure what kind of midwife you want to be? Use this guide to help you decide.

Ask a midwife why they do the work they do and you’ll hear different reasons. Some had a positive childbirth experience with their own midwife, some feel a duty to support women and others simply knew it was their calling.

Although the reasons may vary, they share a common theme. Midwives have a strong desire to give women more options and control over their bodies. As health care costs increase, patients are looking to natural medicine as an alternative. Midwifery is no exception.

If you’re ready to join the field, you’ll be in good company. Midwives attended 351,968, or 9.1%, of all births in the U.S. in 2019 says the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM).

But before you can practice, you’ll need to complete midwifery school. Here’s what you need to know.

Midwifery School

Midwifery schools offer comprehensive, rigorous curriculums. Students learn the midwifery practice from before conception to after the birth—family planning, childbirth, postpartum and newborn care. Some programs also incorporate nurse practitioner courses.

Midwives tend to have a natural propensity to foster relationships with others; a degree program will hone a student’s practical skills and teach them the best ways to support patients.

Before you can choose a school, however, you need to decide what type of midwife you want to become.

Midwifery programs fall under the following categories:

  • Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM) and Certified Midwives (CM): Accredited by the American College of Nurse-Midwives Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education.
  • Certified Professional Midwife (CPM): Also known as a licensed midwife or registered midwife. CPM programs are accredited by the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council (MEAC).

CNMs outnumber other types of midwives in the U.S. by a great deal, primarily due to licensing restrictions on CMs and practices. As of August 2017, there were 11,826 CNMs practicing nationwide, and just 101 CMs. One reason for this discrepancy is that CNMs are licensed in all 50 states, while CM licensure is limited to Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. CPMs are licensed or otherwise regulated in 31 states.

CNMs: To become a CNM, you first need to complete an undergraduate nursing program to become a registered nurse. Then, you’ll need to enroll in a graduate-level midwifery program. A CNM education will allow you to work in hospitals and practice in birth centers. Some states also permit CNMs to attend home births.

Certification: Upon completing an accredited midwifery program, you can apply for certification from the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB).

CMs: Like CNMs, certified midwives must complete both a bachelor’s and graduate degree to get certified. However, they don’t need an RN license prior to or as a part of their midwifery program. They are still required to complete certain science and health courses and related health skills training in order to enter a midwifery education program. Keep in mind that CMs are only licensed in Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, and only have the authority to prescribe medications in New York, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Certification: Available from AMCB upon completion of master’s degree.

CPMs: CPMs who earn a midwifery degree or certificate from an accredited school are eligible to take a certification exam. CPMs can also become certified with an apprenticeship, but they have to go through a portfolio evaluation process to become certified.

Unlike CNMs who work in hospital settings, CPMs tend to serve women in their homes or at birth centers. According to the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM), CPMS have fewer clients so they can focus on personalized care.

Certification: The North American Registry of Midwives issues CPM certification.

Once you’ve decided the type of midwife you want to become, it’s time to look at programs.

On-campus vs. Online Midwifery Schools

Graduate nursing programs with a midwifery specialization are available both online and on campus. With a distance program, courses can be completed online, but students are required to complete clinical training in their city or town.

Certain programs allow students to do their clinical work in their community, but come to campus periodically for classroom instruction.

Think of how you learn best. If you need the structure of regular classroom attendance, an online or distance program may not be the best fit.

Length of Midwifery Programs

As you look ahead to your journey to becoming a midwife, the length of a program certainly becomes a factor. If you already have your bachelor’s degree, CPM programs usually last three years.

BSN-to-MSN programs, where you get a combined nursing and midwifery education, also last about three years.

Clinical training is part of any curriculum and students are matched with preceptors who instruct students. Your clinical experience will provide you with hands-on experience. As an example of what you can expect, here are a few of Frontier University’s nurse-midwife clinical requirements:

  • 30 family planning visits
  • 40 births (includes observations and some without epidurals)
  • 40 newborn assessments
  • 30 postpartum visits
  • 40 labor management experiences
  • 15 perimenopausal/postmenopausal visits

Midwife Schooling

The type of coursework and experience you receive in midwifery school will largely depend on the track you choose. You’ll notice many topics overlap, but there are also some major differences. For example, a nurse-midwife can provide primary care services to patients whereas a CPM typically does not. Another difference? CPMs may be private practitioners so business tactics are necessary to learn.

CPM CoursesCNM and CM Courses
Introduction to MidwivesPrimary Care for Women
Well Woman ExaminationsNurse-midwife Role
Business and Professional Issues of MidwiferyPrenatal Care
BreastfeedingLabor and Birth
Prenatal CarePostpartum Care
LaborPrimary Care for Women and Children
Postpartum and Newborn CarePolitics and Social Justice
Politics and ActivismHealthcare Informatics

Sources: American College of Nurse-Midwives; Midwifery Education Accreditation Council; North American Registry of Midwives.

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