Renee Heath - Midwife at Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital

Renee Heath
'Midwifery encompasses working autonomously and in a team. It means I can be part of the joy, compassion, teaching, counselling and, on occasions, drama and emergency involved in the job.'

Meet Renee Heath, a midwife at Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital. Renee is a registered nurse and an endorsed midwife. She has a Bachelor of Nursing Post Registration as well as a Graduate Certificate in Midwifery and has cared for all kinds of people, from newborn babies to the elderly.

With 30 years experience in the industry, Renee is passionate about her job and feels midwifery is a rewarding profession. With updated midwifery courses available in Australia, she hopes the industry will attract a whole new generation of carers.

What course has your nursing career taken?

Straight from high school I commenced my hospital-based training as a student nurse. After graduating as a registered nurse, I spent an extraordinary 18 months in a burns unit where I experienced amazing team spirit with all staff, despite the terrible injuries we encountered.

After that I left for a working holiday in the United Kingdom and completed an 18-month midwifery course in Edinburgh, Scotland. I lived and worked in the United Kingdom for a total of four years before returning to Australia. Back home, I tried my hand at geriatric nursing in a local nursing home for six months, but my heart was still with midwifery and I began working as a midwife in a large metropolitan hospital.

I was keen to continue travelling and gain further midwifery experience overseas, so I spent two years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where I gained invaluable experience caring for local families and foreign nationals. I'm now back in Australia working in midwifery in local and community settings.

Why did you choose midwifery over other specialisations?

I always had a desire to care for women and babies. I was in awe of the midwives I met who shared women's birth experiences and thought it would be such a happy work environment.

Midwifery encompasses working autonomously and in a team. It means I can be part of the joy, compassion, teaching, counselling and, on occasions, drama and emergency involved in the job.

Do you ever become emotionally attached to the job?

Certainly there is a degree of emotional attachment; you wouldn't be human if there wasn't. However, midwives are trained in maintaining professional boundaries. My job as a midwife is to assist women and their families physically and emotionally throughout their pregnancy, regardless of the outcome.

What's the most important quality for a midwife to possess?

Passion. I think the most important quality is a desire to assist women and their families through one of the most amazing journeys of their lives.

What does midwifery involve?

Midwifery involves guiding women through their pregnancy, the birth process and transition to parenting. Clinical assessment of the ongoing pregnancy and education for care of the newborn are key aspects of midwifery.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started in this career?

That women forget the pain of labour, but never forget their carers and how pivotal you are in their experience.

Have there been any significant changes in midwifery?

Absolutely. Midwifery is a very dynamic profession and research has allowed us to change our practices to facilitate family-centred care, and promote support for natural childbirth.

Midwives are moving maternity care away from a hospital setting. Traditionally, childbirth in Australia has been very hospital-based but, by and large, giving birth to babies is a natural process and a large proportion of women can give birth naturally, without medical intervention.

My job as a midwife is to recognise when things are deviating from the norm and to then involve the multidisciplinary team.

Are there any major differences between the practices of midwives in the United Kingdom, Australia and the Middle East?

Australian midwifery care tends to be hospital-based with medical professionals and allied health teams involved. In other places midwives are able to practice more autonomously.

Is there a shortage or an oversupply of midwives in the profession?

There is a shortage of nurses and midwives worldwide. However, with the undergraduate midwifery degree that is being introduced in Australia and the innovative models of midwifery care, the profile of midwives is being expanded and we hope it will attract an unprecedented number of new midwives to the profession.

Is midwifery well paid?

Not particularly, but I don't believe this has anything to do with the shortage of midwives. At the same time we're not badly paid, but in this day of wanting more things in our lives, we would always like more monetary gain.

Wages are always a contentious issue and, depending on the particular role that you play within midwifery, the profession could be better paid. However, the rewards of knowing that you've made a positive difference in a woman's birth experience, or their pregnancy, and have guided them in the transition to parenting are invaluable. The job satisfaction in midwifery overrides monetary gain and it's certainly what keeps people in the profession.

If someone's looking at midwifery as a career, do they have to start with shiftwork?

Yes. Midwifery is a 24/7, 365 day a year vocation and babies don't generally arrive within office hours. But even if they do, you still have to assist parents who need nurturing at all different hours of the day.

There are different midwifery roles and models of care supported through hospitals that allow flexibility of hours and reduce the need for night duty shifts. Midwives provide maternity care in hospital and community-based settings, and in the home. Nowadays midwives can work towards a good work life balance.

What's the best thing about being a midwife?

Caring for women and their families through life-changing and challenging experiences and knowing that you make a difference. It is very special sharing the tears of joy that come with the new addition to a family.

And the worst thing?

Unexpected outcomes and coping with bereavement.

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