The new Bachelor of Midwifery degree program at Mount Royal University is an important step toward meeting the high demand for midwives in Alberta.
The entry-level program, which was announced earlier this month is the first of its kind in the province. Over the past four years MRU has been working with provincial ministries and regulators to develop the program, said MRU dean of Health and Community Studies Brenda Hendrickson.
Demand for midwives has increased since 2009, when the province began to publicly fund their services.
"What the government is doing is covering midwifery care under the health care plan," Hendrickson said. "That was great but there weren't many midwives in Alberta."
And interest in midwifery is linked to more than just funding. "Mothers want to have their choices honoured and recognized. For example how and where their baby is going to be born," Hendrickson said. "Midwifery practice does that."
Midwives are primary health care providers and experts in childbirth, exclusively in low-risk pregnancies. In Alberta they're licensed to deliver babies in hospitals, birthing centres and in homes.
The ten students who will be accepted to the program's first intake will commence their studies in September of this year.
MRU is a good setting for this program for a number of reasons said Hendrickson. "One is that we specialize in undergraduate professional programs," she said. "Another is we have the facilities: the classrooms, the labs, simulations, the equipment."
Hendrickson also said MRU is well-connected with the community for placements, and is entrepreneurial, in that it takes on programs that the community needs.
"Another important issue is that midwives are their own discipline," she said. "At MRU they are recognized as that and are not placed under another discipline such as nursing or medicine."
A challenge the university faced in developing the program was a lack of existing midwives to act as preceptors for its students. "We had to build the pool of midwives. We need enough for students to be mentored," Hendrickson said. "They're at about 52 [registered midwives] now in the province."
Midwives complement the health care system in a number of ways, said Alberta Health and Wellness spokesperson Howard May.
"There has been an increase in demand to the point where they can't keep up"" he said. "This [new program] is a significant step. The role midwives can play in the system is not only the important service they do, but also to relieve some stress on the workloads of doctors and nurses."
The University of British Columbia is the only other university in Western Canada that offers a degree in midwifery. The University of Calgary has never considered offering such a program said U of C's Faculty of Nursing spokesperson Karen Cook.
"It's an area of specialty that requires more nurse educators than we have the capacity for and substantially more teaching and learning space, which we also don't have the capacity for," Cook said. "But we're really excited around the announcement of Mount Royal's program and are delighted that the province will now have a degree program."
MRU expects its program to expand as times goes on. "I think there will be a significant movement to increase the number of seats in our program and to recruit midwives into Alberta," Hendrickson said.
Midwifery is associated with favourable outcomes, fewer complications and lower rates of Caesarean sections, Hendrickson added. "It's women in control of their own body and their own health, with a midwife as a coach," she said. "If I had to say anything, it empowers women."