With the roles of a nurse and midwife everchanging in the developing world of today, will societies views of nurses and midwives forever stay archaic, with sexism fully immersed within the views and biases of the public, or is there hope for the future, with the pandemic bringing not only death and destruction but the positive light that the National Health Service so desperately needs.
The core definition of the role of a nurse and midwife are different, yet the majority of the functions within the job role are very similar, if not the same. Both nurses and midwives are expected to assess patients and in turn plan and manage their care alongside other healthcare professionals. They must also record observations, monitor for deterioration, documentation, advocate for the health and well-being of the patient, educate the patients regarding health and management of illnesses all whilst providing support and advice. (Fukada M. (2018), NMC, (2018), RCN, (2020).)
The job roles parallel each other, the main difference being that midwives solely work with pregnant women and new-borns and nurses can work with a number of different people of all ages, within all stages of life; from neonatal all the way to palliative. Nurses also tend to care for patients who are sick or injured in some way and are helping them either get better from said illness, cope with lifelong ailments or helping them feel comfortable during their last moments. Whereas, although some pregnant women will have illnesses that will add complications to their pregnancy, midwives are there primarily to support a woman through the antenatal, intrapartum and finally postnatal stages.
The image and expectation of nurses and midwives in society can be very contradictory at times. Most people have high expectations when it comes to the level of care they would receive from nurses and midwives. They are also seen as very compassionate and caring people, as they are often the face of patient centred care. Especially after the Covid 19 pandemic, seen as by the public as heroes, as they often were putting their own lives at risk in order to give the care people so desperately needed, causing national gratitude for the NHS with people Clapping for them, to show their unwavering support. (BBC News, 2020) Nurses also had to substitute for family members, due to restrictions within the hospitals which withheld friends and family from being able to visit, many of them helping not only the patients but the family members emotionally, especially holding the patient’s hand, letting them know they weren’t alone, through their final moments of life. Similarly, with midwives, during the pandemic, often had to be not only a medical professional but the expectant mothers only form of emotional support during not only labour but doctors’ appointments and scans, as most hospitals limited birthing partners or banned them all together, with only 23% of NHS trusts letting birthing partners stay for the whole labour and 40% of women attending their 20 week scan alone. (Alexandra Topping and Pamela Duncan, 2020)
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On the other hand, not everyone sees Nurses in a positive light. Many nurses are seen as displaying negative attitudes, being rude and unfriendly. Numerous people believe nurses to just be “Bottom wipers” and grossly uneducated. Time and time again members of the public have referred to nurses as drastically unintelligent compared with doctors, saying “too stupid to become a doctor” as a reason to why they believe others have become nurses or comments such as 'heard nursing students say they just go into nursing school to find and marry a doctor.'. (the student doctor network, 2017)
When looking at, not only the negative but the positive views that society has of both midwives and nurses, it comes into question whether sexism plays a part in how the public view said professions. Observing some of the key positive attributes people associate with nurses, such as compassionate and caring, are normally words associated with women. Also, on the other side, with the negative points, people assume nurses are more “stupid” than doctors, is centred around sexism, as many people think of doctors as males and nurses as females, thus making nurses less intellectual as women are stereotypically considered more stupid and inferior to males. I also believe sexism is the reason why midwives seem to avoid the negative attributes that are typically associated with nurses because whereas nurses are seen as stupid and midwives are not so much, this is because birthing and pregnancy is related to women, society assumes women are well versed in these areas and so are already knowledgeable, therefore are not bunched with nurses and deemed uneducated. The long standing stigma around women and labour being private and unsuitable for males to be involved has also superseded the years, from a time when midwifery was a strictly women only affair into the 21st century, where although men are now considered to be allowed in the room while their children are born, there still seems to have that same stigma attached that it’s a majority woman only profession.
In an article from 2014, one man looked into how sexism in advertising has manipulated and biased societies views of a nurse, basically propagating the ideology that nurses are seductive, young and attractive women who are simply a decorative presence (Manuel-Ángel Calvo-Calvo, 2014). Which is how many people perceive the medical service to run, as most people who haven’t been within the hospital setting assume that 80% of the time they are under the care of the Doctor and the other 20% is with the nurse, when in fact it is largely the other way round, spending a majority of the care with the nurse and only a small percentage spent with the Doctor. This also perpetuates the view that nurses are just a side piece within care, when in fact they are more the face of the care profession.
In 1902, within the , the Midwifery Act became law, establishing midwifery as a profession in Britain where midwives had to undergo supervised training and registration (Lorelei Bachman, 2016). This started the change as before this many of the women in labour would have untrained staff help birth their babies. After this law was implemented, antenatal care had a revolutionary transformation, where before expectant mothers had rarely been checked any time before their labour, it was suddenly changed as in 1915 the compulsory notifications of births were implemented, encouraging healthcare professionals to establish connections with the families beforehand, helping teach young families about proper care, general health and feeding.
After the second world war, due to the creation of the National Health Service, midwifery became the heart of many communities who were unable to have the privilege before, as finally the medical field was more centred around care rather than whether someone could afford it. During the late 40s to the 60s midwifery was finally starting to receive the recognition it deserved with a working party dedicated to consider the recruitment and training of midwives, with the collaboration of Hammersmith Hospital, Battersea College of Technology and the Queens institute, introducing a four-year integrated course of nursing education by 1959.
Although midwifery has come a long way since its official start it still comes with its own set of problems today. Since 2007 the percentage of first-time mothers over the age of 30 has risen by 7%, now sitting at a majority with 55%, creating different concerns and considerations for midwives to have to adapt to when caring for their patients (Office for National Statistics, 2019). From a majority of women opting for home births a century ago, most women in Britain now opt for hospital births, but with the booming numbers of babies born its putting immense pressure on the NHS and its midwives. Midwives now tend to mother and baby throughout the whole pregnancy process which also gives the midwives a lot more work to follow and monitor, not only of the baby but its mother also, trying to spot early signs of complications, as the earlier problems can be spotted the greater chance of a healthy, successful pregnancy and labour.
This year many changes were seen in the NHS due to the pandemic that swept the world, with midwifery being one sector that saw massive changes within. What had finally become a more open world to expectant fathers had once again had its doors shut to them, as many hospitals restricted birthing partners either down to one or none, in a bid to reduce numbers of Coronavirus cases. This put immense pressure on the midwives yet again as not only did they have to be medical professionals, but also the only emotional support that the expectant mothers had as well, putting evermore expectations onto the midwives. (Alex Regan, 2020)
Although sexism is still rampant within the views of both a nurse and a midwife, Coronavirus has opened up the eyes of many to just how much the NHS professionals really do, not only for their patients but their local communities and the country as a whole. With this, hopefully shifting the negative views that society believes and creating a much more positive view of the many hard-working people who have literally put their lives on the line, in order for the to stay afloat.