Midwives on Call the Midwife: S6E2

Welcome back! This week’s blog comes from midwife Joan Combellick.

“No matter what science sought, our challenge remained the same…to accept what it meant to be human, to embrace our strengths, our weaknesses, our dreams.”

In this week’s episode of ‘Call the Midwife,’ Sister Ursula, the new Mother Superior, tries to introduce a more efficient work style at Nonnatus House. This change, she claims, will be more productive, professional, and cost-effective. However, the midwives and nurses resist. Instead, of truncating their routines they hold steadfastly to their practice of deeply individualized care, whether that means spending extra time with a high-risk family, advocating for public health improvements for dockworkers, or literally giving away food from their cupboard and garden.

This quantity vs. quality conundrum is still with many of us today. As a friend of mine recently put it, “we used to follow our calling, now we just get employed.” In the 20 years since I started working at a community health center, the organization has grown exponentially. What was once a two-office operation is now a huge, corporate entity with over 30 offices and counting. I do believe we are more efficient, productive and cost-effective workers than we were before. But I also believe that all that efficiency has impacted our quality of care along with our sense of a calling, the two inseparable intangibles we hold so dear.  New priorities—a patient every 15 minutes, limited ability to shape our environment, and a million clicks on the EHR—keep us moving fast, but also mean that something vital to our work goes missing.

But take heart! We are reminded by the Nonnatus House example that as midwives and nurses we know how to break the rules. It is both our heritage and obligation. Today I challenge each one you to break the rules in some small way to give some extra care to someone who needs it most. Whether by hook or by crook, take back your right to follow your calling. The families you serve will be better off if you succeed.

Joan Combellick is a CNM practicing at an FQHC in the Hudson Valley. She completed her PhD this month at NYU.

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