Open Access Research article

Public health education for midwives and midwifery students: a mixed methods study

Jenny McNeill*, Jackie Doran, Fiona Lynn, Gail Anderson and Fiona Alderdice

Author Affiliations

School of Nursing & Midwifery, Queen’s University Belfast Medical Biology Centre, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 7BL, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:142  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-142

Published: 7 December 2012

Abstract

Background

Current national and international maternity policy supports the importance of addressing public health goals and investing in early years. Health care providers for women during the reproductive and early postnatal period have the opportunity to encourage women to make choices that will impact positively on maternal and fetal health. Midwives are in a unique position, given the emphasis of the philosophy of midwifery care on building relationships and incorporating a holistic approach, to support women to make healthy choices with the aim of promoting health and preventing ill health. However, exploration of the educational preparation of midwives to facilitate public health interventions has been relatively limited. The aim of the study was to identify the scope of current midwifery pre registration educational provision in relation to public health and to explore the perspectives of midwives and midwifery students about the public health role of the midwife.

Methods

This was a mixed methods study incorporating a survey of Higher Educational Institutions providing pre registration midwifery education across the UK and focus groups with midwifery students and registered midwives.

Results

Twenty nine institutions (53% response) participated in the survey and nine focus groups were conducted (59 participants). Public health education was generally integrated into pre registration midwifery curricula as opposed to taught as a discrete subject. There was considerable variation in the provision of public health topics within midwifery curricula and the hours of teaching allocated to them. Focus group data indicated that it was consistently difficult for both midwifery students and midwives to articulate clearly their understanding and definition of public health in relation to midwifery.

Conclusions

There is a unique opportunity to impact on maternal and infant health throughout the reproductive period; however the current approach to public health within midwifery education should be reviewed to capitalise on the role of the midwife in delivering public health interventions. It is clear that better understanding of midwifery public health roles and the visibility of public health within midwifery is required in order to maximise the potential contribution of midwives to achieving short and long term public health population goals.

Keywords:
Public health; Midwifery; Education; Training