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The term “midwife” literally means “with woman.” Although nurse-midwives are best known for their work during pregnancy and specifically labor and delivery, nurse midwives care for women’s health in a comprehensive way. Certified nurse midwives (CNM) are advanced practice nurses specializing in prenatal care, labor and delivery, postpartum care, gynecology, well women’s health care, and family planning. They work anywhere other advanced practitioners do: in the hospital, at the clinic, and at home.

In the past, many people thought of midwives as only assisting women in home births, water births, and labor without anesthesia. Although some women may choose to deliver their babies in this way, midwives actually oversee all types of births, including those that are more conventional in the hospital. Nurse midwives have the credentials and authority to empower patients, so the kind of care given is according to their preferences and in their best interest.

Despite common misunderstandings, nurse midwives are qualified to care for women during various stages of life. Furthermore, as prescribers and independent providers, they are able to manage all types of pregnancies, whether straightforward or complicated. Like other advanced practice nurses, many midwives have years of experiences as registered nurses in labor and delivery and other areas of women’s health. Many contend that the unique experience of working as a registered nurse before advancing is what sets nurse practitioners, including midwives, apart from their physician counterparts.

Within midwifery, there are stratified scopes of practice and levels of education; this is both location and training-dependent. Just like other advanced practice nurses, midwives work with varying degrees of independence from physician oversight in an ever-changing climate of advanced practice patient care. The majority of midwives hold a master’s or doctorate nursing degree (CNM); there are also certified midwives (CM) who have passed their advanced practice boards while maintaining a bachelor-level degree of education. For those who don’t have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree can qualify to be a certified professional midwife (CPM). They are either trained through apprenticeship and/or formal education, and their scope of practice is narrower than CNMs.

As standards of health care providers evolve, the accreditation process for nurse midwives has increasing standards. The good news is that nurse midwives are learning through rigorous training and experience to provide high-quality patient care independently. Nurse midwives are more than the overseers of alternative birthing methods. They are fully licensed and independent women’s health providers.

For more information on this career path, visit DailyNurse.com/nurse-midwife.

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Nancy Swezey, BSN, RN, CNOR

Nancy Swezey received her BSN from Columbia University. She now practices in New York City in the operating room where she has worked as a staff nurse, and currently as a care coordinator specializing in head and neck surgery. Nancy is also pursuing her advanced practice degree at CUNY Hunter where she assists the faculty as a research assistant, focusing on nurse education and module development.
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