This article provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about earning a master's degree in nurse midwifery and pursuing career options in the field.
How much can a nurse midwife potentially earn?
Midwives’ salaries depend on where they work and what education, training, and experience they have. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, advanced practice midwives—midwives with graduate degrees and a background in nursing—earn a median annual salary of $89,600[i].
Can nurse midwives prescribe medications?
Nurse midwives who have the designation of an advanced practice registered nurse may be authorized to prescribe medications in some states[ii]. The extent to which they can do so varies by state.
Can nurse midwives perform C-sections?
No, they cannot. In the case that a woman needs a Cesarean section, nurse midwives refer her to an obstetrician or OBGYN.
Do you have to have a nursing license to apply to nurse midwifery programs?
In most cases, yes, especially at the graduate level, nurse midwifery programs typically require prospective midwives to have a current nursing license. However, nurse midwife programs that help prepare prospective nurses to apply for nursing certification and licensure may accept students without nursing licenses but, those students cannot work as nurses or complete nursing practicums without first securing their licenses.[iii]
What are some of the common course requirements in a midwife training program?
At the graduate level, prospective nurse midwives may take courses in the following academic areas:
- Integrated medical sciences (at multiple levels: I, II, and III, for example)
- Research I, II, and III
- Healthcare policy and community health
- Basic health skills
- Advanced pharmacology
- Physical assessment of women and pelvic assessment of women (at multiple levels of didactic and clinical study)
- Medical and obstetrics complications of pregnancy
- Pre-partum, postpartum, and intrapartum care
Nurse midwives might also study subjects more specific to midwifery such as ethical issues in midwifery, mentorship and teaching in midwifery, professional issues and leadership in midwifery, and counseling for women and their families throughout the birthing process.
What is the difference between a nurse midwife and a midwife?
Quite simply, a nurse midwife is a Registered Nurse with nursing and midwife training, education, and certification. Nurse midwives can legally practice in all 50 states, and may be able to prescribe medications in some states. They might also be qualified to perform more medical procedures than midwives can in some states. They are commonly called Certified Nurse Midwives.[iii]
Midwives who do not have degrees or certifications in nursing are called Certified Midwives or Certified Professional Midwives. They have midwife training, education, and certification that may prepare them to provide medical and supportive care to women throughout the birthing cycle. However, the can only practice legally in 28 states, and they typically cannot prescribe medications or perform as many procedures as nurse midwives can.[iv]
What is a direct entry midwife?
Direct entry midwives enter the field without a background in nursing or midwifery. Think of these professionals as ones who enter the field of midwifery directly without any prior experience, training, or education in the field. Certified midwives, licensed midwives, and registered midwives are all examples of direct entry midwives. Nurse midwives are not direct entry. Depending on their credentials direct-entry midwives may only be able to practice in certain states.[iv]
Where do midwives work?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 5,110 nurse midwives were employed in the U.S. in 2014. Of those 5,110, nearly 50% were employed in physicians’ offices, while approximately 30% were employed in medical and surgical hospitals. Slightly more than 10% of midwives were employed in outpatient care centers, and the remaining found employment elsewhere[v]. In addition, many midwives work for private clients or in people’s homes.
Do nurse midwife programs teach you how to perform home births?
It ultimately depends on the program. Midwifery programs across the spectrum may teach students this unique skill. However, Certified Professional Midwives are the only midwives required to learn how to perform births out of the home[iv]. It’s possible that other types of midwives, including nurse midwives, may not be trained or certified to perform home births.
What is the difference between a midwife and a doula?
A midwife is educated, trained, and certified to provide medical care and physical, emotional, and mental support to women and families before, during, and after pregnancy[v]. Doulas provide physical, emotional, and mental support to woman and families during the birthing process, but they do not provide medical care. Additionally, they are not required to gain specific education, training, or experience prior to serving as a doula. They do not need to be certified, and they can practice without permission from the state. However, many doulas engage in professional development and training and obtain certification from Dona International to provide women the best support possible.[vi]
What is the difference between a midwife and an OBGYN?
Midwives are professionals with the education, training, and certification necessary to serve women and their families throughout the birthing process. They typically earn bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, or advanced certificates in midwifery and/or nursing and complete midwife training. On the job, they perform medical tasks and provide certain medical care to woman and babies. They also provide highly customized emotional, physical, and emotional support to woman and their families. While they are highly trained, they are not doctors.[v]
OBGYNs are obstetrician gynecologists with doctorate degrees in medicine. They complete all of the education, training, and certification necessary to work as doctors, and they typically do not train to be midwives. As doctors, they can prescribe a broader range of medications and perform many procedures that midwives cannot. They too perform medical tasks and provide medical care to women and babies. They do not necessarily emphasize highly customized care for their patients.[vii]
Midwives and OBGYNs often work together closely, and many women consult both during the birthing process. When midwives come across an issue they are not authorized to resolve, they refer women and their babies to OBGYNs.
What does the certified nurse midwife credential mean?
The Certified Nurse Midwife credential is for advanced practice nurses with education and training in midwifery. This designation enables nurse midwives to practice as midwives in all 50 states and to broaden their scope of services for patients. Professionals with a Nurse Midwife credential must maintain the standards of professionalism, education, and certification in the disciplines of midwifery and nursing concurrently.[iii]
[i] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-5 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-2 | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-4 | [iv] mana.org/about-midwives/legal-status-of-us-midwives | [v] bls.gov/oes/current/oes291161.htm | [vi] dona.org/develop/birth_cert.php | [vii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm#tab-4