I get mail!

I got two emails on the same day, asking me for advice! I feel like mighty Isis. I’m not going to start call you “my little muffins”, but I am going to answer them on the blog, like she does.

Since the letters are so similar, I am going to answer them both together.

Letter writer #1 writes:

I’m just curious what made you decide to move from an education in midwifery to medical school. I’m at a bit of a crossroads. I’m about to finish my MPH and had been planning on applying to medical school this summer. I already have the MCAT and all prerequisites under my belt. However, I recently became really interested maternity care and midwifery. Now I’m confused about whether I should pursue an education in midwifery or go into medicine as an OB and support natural birth practices and midwives.

Letter writer #2 writes

I am currently a doula and CBE and the more I get involved with birthwork, the more I see that overall we need way more options out there for respectful, compassionate, Care Providers who practice evidence based medicine.

So naturally I thought, OK go be a midwife. … There’s a great program in Chicago for those of us with generic Bachelor’s degrees to jump right in get the RN and then do a masterĀ“s in midwifery in 2-3 years after that. So with another year of pre-reqs at a community college, it will take me 6 more years (at least) to finish.

Now we are moving to Oregon which opens up the CPM route if I wanted (just means I can’t move back to IL and practice legally if that’s what I choose)….

I see how regulated and pushed around midwives are here in IL. There are only about 5 in the Chicago area who will do home births and even then b/c they work all over the Chicago area it’s difficult for the to build up a rapport with the staff at the hospitals b/c there are so many and a necessary transport can be difficult which puts moms and babies at risk.

So then I was thinking about medical school to go the OB or the GP who also delivers babies route. But then that means at least 2 more years of pre- reqs before I can even apply for medical school. And then med school plus residency. (And I haven’t even mentioned the loans I’d have to take out).

One other option my aunt threw out there was a Physician’s assistant. I have never heard of them delivering babies, but she seemed to think that might be a possibility…I know this has been a huge ramble, and I guess I’m writing b/c I’d like to get some slightly objective input. What factors influenced you to dive all-in to med school instead of midwifery? What kind of practice do you think you’d like to be part of?

Ha, well, I don’t know if I am a good example when it comes to planning a career in medicine. Not unless you want to be the non-traditional student everyone else seems to think they are. (Not that there aren’t other non-trads, but most students seem to think they are non-trads even when many of them seem really trad to me).

I didn’t choose to train as a midwife. It is one of the best things I ever did, but it kind of happened to me. I had my first son with a CNM at a hospital. I was not a birth activist at the time. I was the first of my friends to become pregnant. It wasn’t a particularly great birth, and it certainly didn’t make me want to be a midwife.

I was interested in natural medicine originally, after helping diabetics in the health food store where I worked right after art school. I originally considered going to Bastyr University to its naturopathic physician program, but, much like the CPM dilemma mentioned in letter #2, an NP can only get licensed in a dozen states, which is even less than a CPM/LM. Considering how tenuous that seemed, I decided going for a conventional medical degree would be more safe, and then I would be able to practice as holistically as I chose, while also able to be the primary care physician, regardless of where I ended up living.

I had both of my children during my pre-medical journey. I had to take a significant amount of prerequisites, and I only went to school part time. If I had it to do over again, I would have taken more classes and taken out loans. I was five months pregnant with my second son when I interviewed for medical school for the first time. I had no clinical experience, and talked about using natural supplements for diabetes in my interview. I also was wearing a much more casual suit than the other applicants, and stood out like a sore thumb in many regards. I didn’t get a spot.

I was devastated. For my pregnancy, I was seeing a direct entry midwife practice (in Florida, they are licensed as LMs, in other states, they are often licensed as CPMs) associated with a freestanding birth center and midwifery education program. I loved the atmosphere and the women-centered medical practice there. I was also adrift, not sure if I could or should reapply to medical school with an infant. I had planned on having two potty trained children by this point in my training, but a miscarriage, divorce, and remarriage postponed that a bit. I remember asking the director of the program if she would hire me as a physician’s assistant. She asked me why I wouldn’t just apply to the midwifery program.

I laughed and told her no. Honestly, and this will probably sound funny coming from people who know me now, I thought “Vagina and screaming all the time – who needs that??” Then, I went home, and reconsidered. Becoming a PA would leave my scope of practice very limited. Becoming a ARNP (or CNM) would take almost as many years as medical school, and I would have to be a disrespected and overworked nurse first. Becoming an LM would take 3 yrs, and the director told me I could bring my baby until he was crawling. I signed up for the midwifery program.

Studying to be a direct entry midwife was one of the best and most trying experiences of my life. I can’t and won’t go into all the details. I was attended more than 50 births, five of which were my own catches. Many of these were VBACs. I finished two of the three years of classes. I was trained and worked as a doula and as a lactation consultant. I loved the holistic atmosphere, the (usually) woman-centered care, the wonderful patients, the normalization and success of breastfeeding. I did not love cleaning the toilets and floors, doing “hell week”, or witnessing the ethical issues when it came to the gray areas of what was safe care within the legal limits of midwifery practice. I also wanted to be an abortion provider, which would not be legal under a direct entry midwifery license.

Amy Romano does a good job of describing what the legal and collaborative climate can be like for midwives. I replied on her post (and here), and described what it was like to be at a legally scrutinized birth center with problems getting doctor back up. One night, the director faced having five years of her records pulled, including all of her active clients, because of a compassionate delivery of a known intrauterine fetal demise (IUFD) because it was, technically, out of her scope of practice, based on the letter of the law. I know how hard it was for her and every midwife and student to stare at those 700 charts and wonder how many other technicalities could be found in them. I left that night knowing I couldn’t continue at the center, risk it being closed down, risk being implicated in any findings, and face being a marginalized and severely limited practitioner.

I had already been thinking about returning to medical school. The midwives and students had remarked how I seemed like I should be a physician and not a midwife, mostly due to my love of clinical research and academic journals, and my cynicism towards some of the more “woo” aspects of the midwifery community. I didn’t want to have to transfer every stalled labor. I didn’t want to have to have a physician back up my practice. I didn’t want to find out that a patient that I referred to a physician because she was risked out of my practice for something minor had been pressured into a non-medically indicated induction, episiotomy, or cesarean. I wanted to be able to deliver twins, and breech babies. I wanted to be able to practice like the physicians I observed in the hospitals and in the community – they seemed to have a wide level of autonomy, authority, respect, and freedom of practice.

I was afraid, and still joke about having a “midwife crisis” and “crossing over to the dark side.” It is hard not to adopt the paradigm of the system in which you are completely immersed. I am desperately searching out progressive residency sites. I am terrified of being stuck at a program in which I am ostracized or constantly in confrontations about standards of care and evidence based practices. I have to bite my tongue when interacting with some members of the medical establishment. But, I had to do that with some midwives. I adore some members of the medical establishment, and adore some midwives, too. I hope I can go to or even attend a homebirth every once in a while, but I can survive with just backing up midwives and working with midwives. There are physicians who attend homebirths. I have never heard of a PA delivering a baby, but I am not an expert.

Anyway, I ended up having to take the MCAT again. It had been 2 years and 3 months since I had taken it, and one of the schools, the closest one I applied to and the one I am now attending, wanted a score within two years (I have since heard of people getting around this, but I wasn’t able to, even though my score was more than decent for the program’s admission standards). Medical school has been challenging but doable. It has been far more enjoyable and varied than I thought it would be. I am only half way through, and would be a practicing midwife by now if I stuck with the midwifery program. A midwife who graduated after I would have has moved and opened a birthing center. I will not be practicing on my own, out of residency, for at least another six years.

I hope I would have made a damn good endocrinologist, or a damn good midwife. But, I have to say, despite how much of a runaround my training has been so far, I love having the direct entry midwifery experience and doula experience and think it is a definite advantage to me in medical school. I have had more than one physician look over his glasses at me and say “Aren’t you the one who was a doula?”, with a not exactly favorable expression, but for the most part, my knowledge and comfort with the subject, and experience with patient contact and basic skills has been nothing but a boon to my training.

Well, this post is about as long as it can be. I hope this helps! Please keep me up to date, letter writers!

2 Comments

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2 responses to “I get mail!

  1. Thanks for writing about this! Your struggles about what route to take really resonate with me. I have written several abortive blog posts about my future-career contemplations. I want to stay involved in birth, and get paid to do it, but how? My main struggle is that very few people seem happy, and the ones who do don’t necessarily share my goals. CNMs complain about their pay, and the lack of respect and collaboration, and the limits on their practices. Doctors complain about their malpractice liability and their debt and insurance companies and the insanity of the level of practice they have to sustain to pay it all. Nurses complain about the lack of autonomy and witnessing the same issues over and over with no power to change them, and all the ones who really seem to care about birth are planning to become midwives, and then see above re: the complaints of the CNMs. CPMs often exist in legal limbo and scrape to make ends meet and struggle to establish legitimacy (and ironically, seem to complain the least about their actual jobs). And every profession has its drawbacks, and everyone bitches about their job, but I’m having a hard time seeing my way clear to a line of work that is worth another 3-5 years of school at minimum, and not just my happy flex-y MPH where I have lots of time to run a student group and be a doula and write a blog and have a life, but like intense studying-for-12-hours-a-day school (or 24-hour-shift clinical training).

    I literally think about this every single day, and have no answers right now. Mostly, I’m just crossing my fingers that I can combine my MPH, (hopeful) IBCLC, and doula work to find some way to stay close enough to the practice-ground to feel satisfied, without having to go back to school again and make these tough choices.

    It’s good to be reminded that the path doesn’t have to be clear or direct…and that whatever it is doesn’t necessarily need to happen Right Now.

  2. MomTFH

    You’re welcome. On the one hand, I wish my path had been more direct, but on the other, I wouldn’t be as experienced, knowledgeable or passionate about pregnancy and birth if I got in the first time I applied to medical school.

    There are a few other factors I should have mentioned: CNMs and MDs and DOs can get reimbursed for their student loans through programs like the National Health Service Corps and the Indian Health Service. In rural and underserved communities, CNMs and ARNPs have a lot more autonomy than they do in a city full of physicians.

    Also, I should have mentioned that family practitioners who do OB tend to be less interventionist than OBs (this is a sweeping generalization here), but they are limited in their scope of practice, also. Many need a back up OB, especially if they didn’t do an OB fellowship, and may have trouble even getting to deliver in some areas, such as South Florida.

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