Nursing or midwifery: which is right for you?
Nurses and midwives both play a crucial role in healthcare – and make an immeasurable difference to the lives of others.
Both are vital, growing professions: according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the regulator for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates registered to practice in the United Kingdom has reached a record 788,638. Not only is this the equivalent of 1.2% of the entire UK population, but 2022-2023 also saw the highest number of new joiners to the NMC’s register in a single year.
If you’re thinking of a career within the health sector, there are a wide variety of potential roles you could explore, encompassing the allied health professions as well as nursing and midwifery. Not only that, but there are plenty of questions you can ask yourself to get started. What would you like your day-to-day responsibilities to look like? Is variety a key factor for you? Does the role of a nurse or midwife appeal to you more? What nursing or midwifery courses are available?
What is the difference between a nurse and a midwife?
Nurses and midwives are trained healthcare professionals who play a key role in supporting public health, however each possesses distinct roles and responsibilities.
Generally speaking, nurses tend to have a wider scope of professional practice – choosing from specialisms including adult nursing, mental health nursing, learning disability nursing, and children’s nursing. Whereas nurses are trained to provide general healthcare services to all types of patients, midwives focus on providing healthcare services to mothers, babies and families throughout pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period. They are the primary coordinators for all support, guidance and care, and aim to provide the best possible birth experience for each and every patient.
The day-to-day nursing role is highly diverse – and can go far beyond the hospital setting. Nurses may choose to take up positions in GP surgeries, community and social care settings, nursing and residential homes, specialist clinics, occupational health services, the military, voluntary organisations and more besides. Similarly, while many midwives are based within hospital clinics, others will undertake community work or support pregnant women in home settings.
Despite these key differences, there is also crossover between the two roles; while nurses do not assist with labour individually, they may be required to assist obstetricians with the labour and delivery process.
Why do people choose midwifery over nursing – and vice versa?
On the whole, many people who choose healthcare careers are inherently driven by caring for others and undertaking meaningful, important work – which both nursing and midwifery roles provide.
Why individuals choose to pursue one career over the other can depend on a wide variety of reasons. For example, an individual may have highly personal reasons for training as a midwife, such as a strong desire to provide compassionate, holistic, woman-centred care throughout the childbirth journey. Other drivers may include:
- a passion for women’s health and maternity care
- a drive to support women’s empowerment and autonomy
- the opportunity to deliver highly personalised care
- a choice of flexible practice settings.
Similarly, the decision to pursue nursing as a career choice can be multi-faceted. Advocating for person-centered care – for all types of patients – is often a strong motivation, as well as the variety and scope for skill development and progression that comes with the nursing role. A preference to work in an area of healthcare that’s not directly related to labour and childbirth can also be a factor. The difference between working in a single medical area, or multiple, means that there are also differences in terms of responsibilities, work environments and training.
Depending on the nature of the specific job role and setting, individuals are likely to encounter physical and emotional demands, irregular hours and shift work, exposure to stress, and continuing education requirements across both midwifery and nursing careers – which should be taken into account.
Do I follow the same route to work in nursing and midwifery?
Nursing and midwifery roles have different education and training requirements. Furthermore, within each role, midwifery students and nursing students may have different requirements depending on their location and the type of work environment.
According to Indeed, some of the common routes to becoming a midwife are:
- An undergraduate degree or midwifery apprenticeship – Choose between a three-year, full-time midwifery degree, or a degree apprenticeship where training is undertaken alongside an experienced, senior midwife. Both options require clinical training and practice placements.
- Optional conversion – If you’re already working as a nurse, you could opt for an 18-month conversion course to gain the specialised skills and expertise to switch careers and begin work as a midwife.
For nurses, training and education requirements include either a three- or four year undergraduate nursing course (such as BSc Nursing), or a nursing apprenticeship programme. Student nurses must also complete clinical training and work experience placements, as well as deciding on their specialisation.
While the clinical and technical skills differ depending on speciality, some skills are required whether you are pursuing a career as a nurse or midwife. These include:
- interpersonal and communication skills
- keen observational skills
- attention to detail.
The NHS Careers website has further information on the details of nursing and midwifery roles, as well as training programmes, entry requirements and bursary options. Additionally, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is a great source of information regarding professional development and postgraduate training.
All nurses and midwives working in the UK must register with the NMC.
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