Education and Training Requirements

High School

In high school, prepare for a career as a nurse-midwife by taking a broad range of college preparatory courses, with a focus on science classes. Anatomy, biology, and chemistry will give you solid background information for what you will be studying in college. Additional classes in sociology and psychology will help you learn how to deal with a variety of patients from different ethnic and economic groups. English and business classes will teach you how to deal with the paperwork involved in any profession. Finally, consider learning foreign languages if you want to serve as a midwife to immigrant communities.

Postsecondary Training

All CNMs begin their careers as registered nurses. The two most common ways to become a registered nurse are to get a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited four-year program or to get an associate's degree in nursing from an accredited two-year program. When you are choosing an undergraduate school to attend, however, keep in mind that a bachelor's degree in nursing is required for entry into most certificate or graduate degree programs in nurse-midwifery. Bachelor's degrees are also usually required for those who want to advance into supervisory or administrative positions or hold jobs in public health agencies.

After you have completed your undergraduate education and passed the licensing exam to become a registered nurse, you can apply to nurse-midwifery programs. The American College of Nurse-Midwives Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education accredits post-baccalaureate certificate programs and graduate programs in nursing and midwifery schools throughout the United States. A certificate program typically requires nine to 12 months of study.

The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNW) requires a master's degree for entry into clinical nurse-midwifery practice. Graduate programs that result in master's degrees usually take 16 to 24 months to complete, and some also require one year of clinical experience in order to earn a nurse-midwife degree. In these programs, the prospective nurse-midwife is trained to provide primary care services, gynecological care, preconception and prenatal care, labor delivery and management, and postpartum and infant care. Doctorate degrees are typically required for those who want to work in top levels of administration, in research, or in education. These degrees normally take four to five years to complete.

Procedures that nurse-midwives are trained to perform include physical examinations, pap smears, and episiotomies. They may also repair incisions from cesarean sections, administer anesthesia, and prescribe medications. Nurse-midwives are trained to provide counseling on subjects such as nutrition, breastfeeding, and infant care. Nurse-midwives learn to provide both physical and emotional support to pregnant women and their families.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

After earning either a midwifery certificate from a nationally accredited nurse-midwifery program or a master's degree in midwifery, midwives are required to take a national examination administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board. Upon passing the exam, the new midwife achieves full endorsement as a medical professional, as well as the title certified nurse-midwife. Those who have passed this examination are licensed to practice nurse-midwifery in all 50 states. Each state, however, has its own laws and regulations governing the activities and responsibilities of nurse-midwives.

All states and the District of Columbia require a license to practice nursing. To obtain a license, graduates of approved nursing schools must pass a national examination. Nurses may be licensed by more than one state. In some states, continuing education is a condition for license renewal. Different titles require different education and training levels.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

In their studies and professional experience, nurse-midwives learn how to record patients' medical histories and symptoms, provide medicines and treatments, set up or add to plans for patients' care, consult with doctors, operate and monitor medical equipment, perform diagnostic tests and analyze results, teach patients and their families how to manage their medical conditions, and explain what to do at home after treatment. To acquire this experience most efficiently, nurse-midwives must learn to assess changes in the health of their patients and decide whether to modify treatment or make referrals; be able to communicate with patients to assess their health conditions; have organizational skills in order to work with multiple patients, each with different health needs; and be detail oriented so that patients get correct treatments at the appropriate times. Finally, nurse-midwives show personal traits of compassion, emotional stability, and patience in order to support patients, who may be in stressful or vulnerable conditions.

If you are interested in becoming a nurse-midwife, you will need skills that aren't necessarily taught in midwifery programs. Nurse-midwives need to enjoy working with people, learning about their patients' needs, and helping them through a very important life change. They should be sympathetic to the needs of their patients. They need to be independent and able to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. Strong observation skills are key, as nurse-midwives must be tuned into their patients' needs during pregnancy and labor. Nurse-midwives also need to listen well and respond appropriately. They must communicate effectively with patients, family members, physicians, and other hospital staff, as well as insurance company personnel. Nurse-midwives should be confident and composed, responding well in an emergency and keeping their patients calm.