10 practical skills you will learn in the first 6 months on the ward?

When you are a student midwife, you are so keen to get going! You have waiting to do this, and to get your badge and uniform, for so long.

When you arrive at university there is a (variable) time allowed for getting to brush up on your anatomy and physiology, meeting your group that you’ll be training with and generally getting an idea of what is expected of you.

However when you go onto your first placement, you will be learning skills from the first day. Your mentor will know that this is your first placement, but most find that learning by doing is the best way or that the ‘see one, do one’ method is a good way of preparing yourself to dive into the deep end.

So, here is a quick rundown of the 10 skills you will learn in the first 6 months:

  1. Taking a blood pressure

    Taking a blood pressure can be tricky at times and is a skill that can take time to perfect, and to know what you are listening to. Your mentor will check what you’ve heard, and your confidence grows each time

    Handy tip: Buy your own stethoscope so that you are confident with your equipment and it fits in your ears nicely. There’s nothing worse than pain in your ears when you are try to concentrate!

  2. Listening to the fetal heart

    Being able to listen to a baby’s heartbeat is sometimes very easy and other times, (such as when it’s earlier in the pregnancy and the baby is moving a lot) it can be much harder.

    It can take time to feel confident using a Doppler and a pinnard, but as a student getting used to using a pinnard is helpful, and a skill that should be practiced.

    Handy tip: buy your own pinnard, that way you know there is always one with you. A wooden one is more comfortable than plastic

  3. Taking a blood sample

    I will openly say this is one of those skills that can take time, I am not a naturally cack-handed person, but I didn’t feel very confident with blood taking for a very long time. I always seemed to have things in the wrong hand and shaking!

    Handy tip: Check with the trust that you will be working for, but if you can have your own tourniquet that you are confident with using, a material one (just double check your infection control policies) can give a tighter hold, especially for those with tricky veins.

  4. Dipping a urine sample

    This will be one of your first jobs and one that you will get used to very quickly.

    Handy tip: Don’t drop the urine sample of the floor!

  5. Palpating a uterus

    Palpating is a skill that takes many years to get used to. Every woman, baby, BMI and gestation is different.

    You mentor will generally palpate first and then guide you through what you are feeling. Start your assessment as soon as she comes into your room. Be confident with what you are feeling and always ask for consent!

    Handy tip: Don’t ask the woman where she ‘feels the kicks’ – that’s cheating!

  6. Performing a vaginal examination

    As we know, being able to perform an examination is an essential part of a midwife’s role. The first time is likely to be like stepping into the unknown and it is absolutely fine to not find a cervix (she will have one!) and to not know what you are feeling.

    Handy tip: At the beginning you might find it easier to perform an examination for a woman with an epidural as you might feel more comfortable taking the time to find all the aspects of the examination that you need.

  7. Birthing a baby!

    This has got to be the icing on the cake! You will always remember the first birth you see, and the first baby you helped to birth. It is a privilege and a joy.

    Handy tip: You will document all the births you witness and when you are the accoucheur. But if I could go back I would have really liked to have kept a journal of the births and the numbers.

  8. Checking that the placenta is complete

    The first time you see, hold and check a placenta is a very memorable moment. Women are truly amazing and the placement is an amazing organ. You will be taught all the names for all parts of the placenta.

    Handy tip: In the umbilical cord there are 2 arteries and 1 vein, best way to remember is AVA (like the name)

  9. Newborn check

    When you check a newborn top to toe, it is a time to really bond with the new mother.

    Handy tip: Always use this time as a great opportunity to educate them about their newborn baby, and if you can include the family in the check.

  10. Breastfeeding support

    You will be given some training on breastfeeding, but in reality you will learn best by caring for women and their babies. It is a skill that is different for each women and baby and is generally not very easy , so patience and support is so important.

    Handy tip: When helping get yourself into a comfortable position to support, there is nothing worse then hurting yourself, so be mindful of your back. No stooping or bending over, as you will need a strong back for a long career!

There is always a little bit of friendly competition between your group, some will witness a birth quicker than others, some will feel more confident with taking blood.

Take everything at your own pace. Everyone will get the numbers that they need to qualify and remember, it’s not a race!

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Emily Seddon

Emily is a midwife with many years of experience. She is passionate about supporting midwives of the future. As a clinical mentor, student link and being on university interview panels, she knows what it takes to get a place!

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