In honor of National Nurses Week, I’d like to pay homage to the profession in which I began my career. I worked as a nurse for more than twelve years before becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), and my nursing background is a vital part of how I practice midwifery.

I regularly work with student midwives, and one of the first and most important lessons I try to impart is, “Don’t forget your nursing roots.”

But times are changing, and many of my students do not have much, if any, clinical nursing experience other than what they have learned in nursing school. Previously, many universities and midwifery programs required clinical practice time in labor and delivery before a nurse could apply to a midwifery program.

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Now most schools accept new graduates with no nursing experience at all, and some students progress directly from their undergraduate to graduate studies with no time working in between.

There are a few programs that skip the nursing step altogether and offer graduate midwifery education for students with Bachelor-degrees. These students sit for the same certification exam as CNMs, though their title is Certified Midwife (CM).

“Old school” labor nurses will tell you they believe this is a terrible trend. Most specialty nursing programs have a clinical practice requirement. Nurse anesthetist programs, for example, require two years of critical care experience. The knowledge and skill gained from a few years on a labor delivery unit tends to create more comfort and confidence in a student midwife.

I too, once favored requiring labor and delivery nursing experience prior to becoming a midwife. However, many of my classmates in midwifery school had no prior nursing experience and have all managed to evolve into amazing midwives. My opinion has changed only through knowing them and watching them excel.

Despite this, the experience and knowledge I gained as a nurse are crucial to my practice today. I learned time management, critical thinking and how to trust my intuition. I learned clinical tricks and how to deal with difficult people. I learned what kinds of providers a nurse wants to work with, and the kinds of providers that nurses abhor.

I respect nurses as equal colleagues. Some of those nurses have been practicing for as long as I’ve been alive, and know far more than I ever will. We all have the same goal and are on the same team. I don’t expect anyone to be at my beck and call.

Most of all, I want to be an advocate for the nursing staff, even if that means changing my plan of care slightly, so the nurse can grab a bite to eat. I will always be a nurse first, and I am so proud of that! Happy Nurses Week!

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.