Australia looks to Ara lecturers for midwifery support

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04 May 2016

Image of midwife taking blood pressure The Ara Institute of Canterbury Bachelor in Midwifery compresses 4800 hours of study into a three year programme.

Australian midwives recently called on the support of midwifery educators in New Zealand including those at Ara Institute of Canterbury to raise awareness of their profession. The co-heads of Ara's School of Midwifery Mary Kensington and Lorna Davies, were invited to present at the Australian 6th International Nurse Education Conference in Brisbane this month to share their experience of midwifery education and to assist the profession to achieve wider recognition in Australia as a distinct speciality.

"By being present we were supporting a new initiative to make midwifery education more visible at the conference. Our presentations discussed elements of midwifery education in New Zealand and helped highlight the need for establishing greater discussion in Australia surrounding education and to encourage the establishment of a midwifery educators' journal," Davies says.

The conference was also a good opportunity for the lecturers to highlight some of the positive work Ara Institute of Canterbury has done in reaching out and supporting midwives in small rural communities.

"New Zealand is really the gold standard for midwifery services," says Lorna Davies who moved to New Zealand from the United Kingdom partly because of New Zealand's approach to midwifery.

The Ara midwifery programme was redesigned in 2009 to include elements of blended learning to make the Bachelor of Midwifery programme accessible to rural communities. One of its key components is the inclusion of regular student tutorials with a lecturer three to four times a week.

"The tutorials are based on the Oxford tutorial model where students discuss what they are learning with their lecturer. We have found that this is a really effective way to breach the gap between learning theory and understanding how it is applied. This is a real option for extending midwifery education into rural communities," Kensington says.

Another advantage of the blended learning approach is that it gives students the opportunity to help each other's learning.

"The programme material is available online and students can write and ask questions within the programme material which also serves as a discussion forum. We can answer these questions ourselves as teachers, but what we have found is that the students respond to each other and often give perfectly good answers. So we often ask students more questions than we answer, prompting them to go off and find the answers themselves. Which is a real benefit we hadn't expected."

The Bachelor in Midwifery compresses 4800 hours of study into the three year programme with students gaining increasing amounts of work experience. This contrasts with many programmes in Australia that have considerably less hours and gives Ara programmes in New Zealand real strength.

"All our students have work placements so they get practical hands on experience in addition to what they learn in the classroom, both virtual and face to face," Kensington says. Placements can include working in a range of maternity facilities as well as alongside experienced community based midwives.

During their first year, 20 percent of their education involves practical work based experience. In second year this increases to 45 percent while in third year 85 percent of the student's time takes place in practical placements. Following graduation they also go through a one year graduate programme which gives them ongoing mentoring during their first year working.

The programme also involves a focus on sustainability which was the subject of Davies' presentation at the conference.

"What I've found in my research so far, is that students that have had this education are much more attentive to sustainability and this is having economic benefits as well as environmental ones. They are using fewer resources and consequently spending less money. As a lot of midwives go on to work independently, reducing costs is important and this awareness of sustainability is making a difference for them."