Midwifery is more than catching babies and unpredictable schedules. Midwives of the 21st century are often business entrepreneurs and political and social activists. Midwifery is a lifestyle and an identity. The experience of becoming a midwife looks different for everyone; the unique nature of one’s path shapes the midwife you will become. Midwifery students will encounter significant personal transformation; some growing pains are to be expected.
Students should prepare for an intensive academic and clinical education, as well as political, social, logistical, and personal challenges. Coupled with the regular life events of expanding families, shifting family roles, partnership transitions, and financial changes, midwifery students can, at some point, find themselves questioning their decision and commitment to continue in midwifery education. MCU encourages students to continually check in with themselves and their families to re-affirm their commitment to midwifery; it is not a commitment that can or should be taken lightly.
MCU supports students through this process with intensive personal and academic advising as well as on-going peer-to-peer interaction. MCU strives to identify and counsel students through the barriers that they face in their journey to becoming a Certified Professional Midwife and works in conjunction with national professional organizations to address these barriers at all levels.
One reason students choose MCU is the distance education model that is geared to the non-traditional student who does not wish to leave their community for midwifery education. The flexibility of our program(s) and the distance education platform has many advantages; however, there are known challenges to retention and completion rates that may not exist, to the same degree, in a brick and mortar or hybrid program. MCU follows best practices in higher education around retention and completion.
Below is a list of some of the challenges we have identified and the strategies we have implemented to improve retention and completion rates.
- Challenge: Cost of education can be prohibitive
Solution: MCU’s continued approval to administer federal financial aid and military veteran benefits provide pathways for midwifery education to students who were previously unable to pay for the cost of education out of pocket. MCU has been administering Title IV funds since January 2013 and VA funds since 2011. Retention rates have improved dramatically since this barrier has been removed.
All incoming students must pass MCU’s Financial Aid Literacy class. Students are educated on their rights and responsibilities as borrowers, as well as the current repayment options available. MCU understands the potential negative impact of accruing student debt and the importance of making informed decisions with regard to financial aid. MCU’s Financial Aid Department is there to help guide students throughout their time with us. Email communication with students interested in receiving financial aid is initiated by the Financial Aid Department upon acceptance into the college. Students are able and encouraged to email the Financial Aid Department at any time with questions or concerns and phone appointments are offered and conducted regularly, scheduled around the student’s availability and time zone.
- Challenge: A distance education model can be less conducive to a student feeling engaged in the institution. Since students are not interacting face to face there is more effort required, both from the institution and the individual, to develop supportive cohorts.
Solution: In 2015 all students were grouped into “houses” of 30-35 students with a “house mentor” who provides continuity-of-care within a small community. This group interaction leads to a more cohesive peer support network. The house mentor is available to guide the student through individual stress points while monitoring student academic and clinical progress.
Student ‘Peer Circles” are spaces where students can self identify wanting a connection with their peers. These circles are facilitated by the student body and provide a space where students congregate to provide support to each other.
Courageous Conversations is a drop-in, monthly gathering open to all faculty, staff, and students of MCU. The purpose of the group is to facilitate critical dialogue about issues of inequity, privilege, and oppression across all identities and experiences. This group is intended to be a safe space where critical dialogue is fostered, voices of marginalized communities are prioritized and listened to, and active allies are cultivated
Faculty have purposefully created assignments that encourage student-to-student interaction. This recognizes the important peer-to-peer learning that happens in the midwifery community but is also designed to encourage students to develop supportive peer relationships.
- Challenge: Online learners are challenged to maintain consistent study habits and engage on a steady basis to assure graduation occurs within the programs’ stated time frames.
Solution: MCU’s distance education course delivery methods are designed to support a student’s ability to stay engaged in the program and maintain momentum and progression. Weekly participation in each course is required either through peer-to-peer discussion boards or in on-line discussions. Assignments are completed in a synchronous and/or asynchronous manner to help students progress in the class and engage with a community of peers. Through verbal and written feedback, faculty members mentor students as they gain knowledge, skills, and behaviors inherent to a Midwife of Excellence™. Our methods of education consistently prove themselves; from 2018-2020, 100% of MCU graduates who sat for the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) exam passed the exam with 94% on their first attempt and the remaining 6% on their second attempt.
It is apparent that MCU graduates nurture a culture of collaboration as they demonstrate cultural humility, diversity, and inclusivity in the ways they choose to practice midwifery and affect social change globally. From 1994 to December 31, 2020, MCU has conferred 322 midwifery degrees. Ninety-five percent (95%) of graduates between 2018-2020 are currently working as midwives and 2% in a birth-related field doing everything from owning a birth center to midwifery education to government health care reform. MCU alumni are spearheading change in the United States, Canada, Hungary, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and Saudi Arabia.
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for improving health care to people who are geographically isolated, economically, or medically vulnerable. Medically underserved areas are areas or populations designated by HRSA as having too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty, or a high elderly population. Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) are designated by HRSA as having shortages of primary medical care, dental or mental health providers and may be geographic (a county or service area), population (e.g. low income or Medicaid eligible), or facilities (e.g. federally qualified health center or other state or federal prisons). Sixty-three percent (63%) of MCU students graduating between 2016 and 2019 are currently practicing in areas that are designated as “medically underserved” or “health professional shortage areas.”
Because of the autonomous nature of midwifery, Midwives College of Utah does not guarantee employment upon completion of the program. MCU works with students while in the program to identify their midwifery goals by examining the future practice a student desires and creating a business plan to ensure sustainable business practices. Due to MCU’s excellent reputation, we often receive job postings from midwifery practices seeking an MCU graduate. These opportunities are posted on MCU’s social media and in the “MCU in Review” newsletter.
Our graduates have a variety of practice types, some have small, private practices while others are in partnership or group practices. Many are business entrepreneurs running their own birth centers. In addition to being business owners or working as employed midwives, MCU graduates lead state/provincial and national midwifery organizations and are key players in creating and lobbying for midwifery legislation.