Midwives often describe their job as 'privileged'. The role they have in preparing women for the delivery of new life makes them a vital presence during all stages of pregnancy, labour and the early postnatal period.
As well as the satisfaction it brings, this unique role is demanding and carries plenty of responsibility. More midwives now work in the community, providing services in women's homes, local clinics, children's centres and GP surgeries. There is of course the option to be hospital based, where there are plenty of opportunities for midwives to work on antenatal, labour and postnatal wards and neonatal units.
Becoming a midwife means undertaking professional education at degree level. Some midwives are qualified nurses who have chosen to change career direction and undertake the extra study necessary to be registered as a midwife. Others begin their career by working their way up via a range of roles, such as support roles that do not require qualifications, before going on to study for a registered midwifery degree.
Once you have joined the NHS you'll enjoy flexible working conditions, excellent benefits and a wealth of opportunities to develop your career. There are few professions that offer so much in terms of job satisfaction and support, as well as giving you the chance to enhance people's lives during their times of need.
Being a midwife is much more than delivering babies. You'd be involved in antenatal and postnatal care, in counselling, in offering support and education, and help families prepare for parenthood.
Your midwifery qualifications and experience will open a wide range of options to develop your career in the directions that interest you most. As your knowledge and expertise increase, you could move into more senior practitioner roles. You could become a team or unit manager where you could combine responsibility for managing other staff with ongoing hands-on involvement with clients.
You may choose to specialise in a particular area of perinatal care and study for further qualifications. As part of this process you might carry out research that helps move the profession forward. You could become attached to a university and be involved in teaching future midwives. If you stay in practice, you could consider the role of consultant midwife, which provides clinical leadership for midwives and others across maternity services.
Your career could well move through different elements of research, teaching, practice development and management - including management at board level within an NHS trust, influencing the shape of healthcare across a whole community.
You could also move into other professions, including neonatal nursing or health visiting. Neonatal nurses have a clinical focus on the treatment and care of women and babies with health complications around birth, such as helping premature babies to get through the critical first few days after they are born.
Health visitors work with families at home and in the community, promoting good health with particular attention on young children. In effect, they take over where the community midwife's role ends, and have a wider concern with the circumstances in which a young child is growing up. There is currently a national recruitment drive to recruit 4,200 more health vistors by 2015.