Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tips for new student midwives: managing your life

I wasn't too sure about how to title this list of tips. At first I thought of some lofty title like 'how to learn lots' or 'making the most of your learning'. Then I changed my mind to 'how to survive your midwifery education' but decided I didn't want to scare students too much. So I am left with some general tips about how to juggle academic life and clinical obligations at the same time as maintaining a life and keeping one's sanity!

I think the first thing is to recognize that it isn't going to be easy. I take my hat off to students doing applied health courses these days because there is so much to juggle. So I think it is vital that you devise a strategy for coping, recognizing that this strategy will be just as relevant when you become a qualified health professional.

1. Develop a support network which may range from extremely flexible childcare to a best girlfriend/boyfriend who will drop everything to go to the pub with you.
  • Get childcare sorted as soon as you can because you will not be able to concentrate on midwifery if you are worrying about your family. Make sure you are organized to be able to cope with all eventualities including sudden sickness, keeping in mind there may be times when you have to put your family second to midwifery (feel free to disagree with this point).
  • Have someone who you can talk to about the very emotional and intense things that will crop up. Someone who will not judge you and will guide you through the process of reflection and making sense of things. You may need several people for this eg someone to off-load and rant to, and a mentor who will help you work through issues in a more constructive way. This mentor may be a midwife or a lecturer but it does need to be someone who you feel completely safe with.
  • BUT be extremely mindful of issues of confidentiality. Don't blab about your terrible day with Mrs Smith and Mr Jones at the pub or on the bus. Even when you work in a big city, you'd be very surprised how quickly things get around.
2. Network, network, network...with midwives, fellow students, doctors, lecturers, social agencies and anyone connected with midwifery and health. This may include attending staff meetings or education sessions at the local hospital; joining your professional body such as the New Zealand College of Midwives and attending the local meetings; joining consumer organizations such as the local branch of the Home Birth Association or La Leche League; attending professional conferences.

All this sounds great in theory but is difficult to achieve in practice because of all the other claims to your time. To my shame, it has been a long time since I attended a meeting of my local NZCOM group. But, this will hugely benefit your learning about midwifery and health. It will also get your name out there as an enthusiastic and motivated student, which in turn will pay off because people will feel keen to give you extra learning opportunities. And it will help you with finding a job and ongoing professional development once you are a midwife.

3. Make friends with your local librarian - very important if you are wanting expert advice/support as you search for information and use databases.

4. Keep an ongoing record of your learning and achievements which will develop into your professional portfolio. Many countries expect health professionals to maintain a portfolio as a part of their professional requirements so it is a great idea to get started from day 1 of your midwifery life - more on this in a future post.

5. Use social networking tools to help manage your learning as well as network beyond your immediate local midwifery community eg start a blog that chronicles your midwifery journal; have a look at the blogs of other student midwives; use to manage your favorite web sites; subscribe to your favorite web sites and blogs using a RSS feed such as Google Reader; join a midwifery forum such as an email discussion group. This will widen your perspective and access to information, make it easier to manage information, and encourage communication and collaboration in the international midwifery community.

6. Find a balance between midwifery and your life as 'you'. When you work out how to do that...let me know! I haven't met a midwife or student who hasn't struggled with this at some time in her life. I think you have to be prepared that the balance will not always be equal. Sometimes midwifery must take precedence and other times your 'you' life must come first. Things like balanced diet, rest/relaxation and regular exercise all helps but is a matter of 'do what I say, not what I do'!

These are a few thoughts off the top of my head. If you can think of anything else, please drop me a comment especially if you are a student or a new graduate.

Image: 'Oh my God I look Cute33'


Carolyn said...

Great tips Sarah and I like the linking you are doing to other posts. This better blog thing is definitely working. What difference in your blog. I am impressed.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for that, Carolyn.I was beginning to wonder if it was a waste of time so it's great to get this feedback. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sarah, it's not a waste of time! I really appreciate these tips because even though I don't have kids yet, I probably will at some point and a fair warning ahead of time is really helpful to mentally and organisationally prepare me for what is to come! Also, these are handy things to keep in mind for when we are in the work field. Thanks!

Sarah Stewart said...

Cool, Janelle. Thanks for that. Keep in touch and let me know how you get on - the challenges and the greatest learning. cheers

Amie said...

Hi Sarah,
Yeah thanks for the tips, even though a lot of it has been said by our lecturers this week, it is great to have it said differently (different view points etc) and it is also great to have a point of reference. I have a feeling I will be referring to it a lot as a 'clam down you can do it' spot.
Thanks again,

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you both, Amie and Janelle for your kinds comments-great to hear this has been useful for you.

But as a point of clarification, it was the 31 Day Blog Challenge Carolyn and I were referring to - I was wondering if doing the Challenge was a waste of time. It is quite hard work and time consuming. However, as I said in a previous post, I think it is paying off.

If you are interested in the Challenge, have a look at my posts where I talk about it in my blog archive. Cheers Sarah

rae said...

hi sarah
good post!
Couple of other thoughts - make sure you take time to research what is required of you in terms of financial resources and other expensive but required tools like a car, drivers license, cellphone, computer, pager for eg - so you can get prepared up front and then focus on the journey from there. Also remember that for most formal child care you need to book in well in advance and as sarah said...remember midwifery happens outside the hours of most formal day care - so have a firm and reliable strategy.

Megan said...

Hi from an ex-student of Sarah's who has done and survived the "juggling" that is doing a Midwifery degree with children on her own. Now, I'm doing the same thing but working as an independent midwife!

My main survival tips were:
*coffee, coffee and coffee :o)!
*being organised well in advance. I realised early on that I couldn't 'pressure cook' an essay the night before because what happened if one of my children got sick, or hurt etc. By doing this, I got a reputation in class for being 'the one' who had her essay done ahead of time and dinner cooked by breakfast time!
It took a lot of organisation but, it can be done. I even stunned Sarah once by submitting an assessment early by two weeks!!!

I agree with what Sarah has said, you need someone to debrief with and, I think often most importantly, you need time for YOU and you only. Whether it is a massage, reading a trashy novel, going to the movies etc. It is important and often the hardest thing to do when the assessments are lining up!

I made time for "me", not always successfully, but most of the time it worked.

There was something else I wanted to say here and now I've forgotten! I could write an essay on it probably!

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Megan, great to hear from you. Hope life is treating you well as a new grad. I really liked what you said about taking 'you' time - very relevant for all midwives I'd say.

I'd love to invite you or any other new grad, to write a guest post about how to prepare for life as a midwife for senior students who are in their last year of education-drop me a line if you think you'd like to do this. cheers Sarah

Anonymous said...

Hey Sarah,
thanks for the tips! I'm sure these will help me maintain my sanity over the next few years!!
cheers, Beth

Sarah Stewart said...

Good luck, Beth and keep in touch to let us know how you are doing. Meanwhile, have a look at the blogs of other student midwives and see what they have to say about their experiences.

Megan said...

I remembered what else I wanted to say in my post last night. Good childcare and support is absolutely essential if you have children and are juggling a midi degree.

I often found it difficult finding a balance between the study and my children, who were 2 and 5 when I started my degree. Often I found the children suffered when I was dealing with the big pressures of assignments, upcoming exams and clinical. I was tired and grumpy and they 'wore' it so to speak!

Best of luck to all those students starting their degree. Its a journey like no other!

Sarah Stewart said...

I 110% agree - both from the perspectives of a midwife and a lecturer who watch students managing their lives. Thanks for that, Megan.

AtYourCervix said...

Thank you Sarah for linking me to this post. I will be definitely taking your advice!

nzlucyblue said...

I know I'm Waaaay late to this party but just needed to post a huge THANK YOU. I just found your blog/this post as I've FINALLY found my calling - to be a midwife a real 'duh, I can't believe it's taken me this long to figure out' moment.
My big concern is how to balance school/working with my family and this helps a lot. I now have more of a strategy. My kids are DD 4 and DS 9 months, so I'm not planning on doing the course till 2012-2013, so I have time to prep. Expect me to be stalking your blog! :p

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Alice, great to hear about your future plans. I haven't been blogging lately about student midwives because I stopped being an undergraduate midwifery lecturer a couple of years ago. But I am starting a new job as midwifery lecturer next year so I am sure you'll hear more from me about this topic as I get stuck back into midwifery education again :)

Pam said...

Hi Sarah,

Pretty essential tips.

I would also advise students to never take their partners/husbands for granted.
There are times I (I am taking ownership of the statement), just lent wholeheartedly on my husband when I was case loading which enabled me to submerge myself in midwifery. Midwifery can consume me as I feel if I so much as 'glance' away from the ball something will get missed and a woman or her baby will suffer as a result.
However partners / husbands can come to feeling neglected and abandoned as a result. So it does take a little extra effort but a night off to include a date night wouldn't go amiss.
This is where I often wonder about women who's midwifery training 'changes' them. I had friends in my midwifery training who stepped into the world of health care later in life after having their children, and came from a wide variety of life experience jobs I.e. Barmaid, etc. Their husbands weren't prepared for their wives to feel so empowered after their training and so unprepared for how the world of midwifery places demands upon their wives lives. Often these marriages didn't cope with the change.
So my main message is men take a little work, we can't take them for granted. It can be a nuisance that it is up to us to keep an eye on things but if we love them then they are worth it! X

Hopeful Harvest Ministries said...

Thanks pam!

Sarah Stewart said...

I totally agree with your observation about the effect of midwifery education on marriages. I've seen many a marriage break up along the way during the 3 year course for exactly the reasons you've pointed out. Partners have got to be told what they're in for, or else it makes for a rocky journey for the whole family.

Anonymous said...

Really hoping to do midwifery, but know its very hard to get on the course. Could anyone please point me in the right direction.