Ten student midwives in Hunter New England Health's New England North West region celebrated the conclusion of their studies with a graduation celebration at Armidale Hospital on Friday.
The 2020 cohort of graduates have been placed in Tamworth, Moree, Narrabri and Armidale.
The Rural Midwifery Program offers a Postgraduate Diploma of Midwifery, with a specific rural focus, through Charles Sturt University and the participating hospitals within the Mehi, Peel and Tablelands Sector of Hunter New England Health.
The program has been offered in this area since 1993 and is now its 28th year.
Siubhan McCaffery is the clinical midwife consultant for HNEH and she provides support for graduates at the participating hospitals which are currently Armidale, Inverell, Moree Narrabri, Gunnedah and Tamworth.
"Each of these facilities offer varying numbers of student positions each year," she said.
"Glen Innes has also participated in the program in the past."
The program was initially set up to attract midwives to rural regions and Ms McCaffery said it is achieving its aim.
"We've got quite a number of people in our leadership roles who have done the course across the 28 years that it has been going," she said.
"Many of the graduates of this program stay within the rural setting and help to create the ongoing midwifery workforce in our area.
"Sometimes they might only stay for one or two years but other times, particularly in the smaller sites, these people set their lives up and stay where they are and become part of the community where they've done their study.
"In terms of retention rates and outcomes overall the program has been remarkably successful, with approximately two thirds of the graduates staying to work within the local area for at least some period of time - which is really exciting."
Ms McCaffery said the other graduates have worked in midwifery elsewhere and remained in those positions for many years.
"In fact, it would be true to say that graduates from this program have been the mainstay of several maternity units, enabling them to maintain adequate staffing and therefore continue to provide a maternity service," she said.
"Of those who have left the local area, many have continued to work in midwifery in other parts of NSW or Australia, thus the program has made a very worthwhile contribution to the wider midwifery workforce as well."
Midwives who work in rural areas need to be particularly well equipped be able to function in isolated settings according to Ms McCaffery. So the rural program has a specific focus on equipping graduates to work in those settings.
"Working in rural areas may include challenges such as working as the lone midwife on duty, having access to fewer resources and greater distances to travel for additional medical and technological backup," she said.
"For example, the care of the sick newborn is a specialised field in its own right and not usually considered core midwifery business.
"In a larger unit there are specialised staff to provide assessment and care of the sick newborn.
"However, the lone midwife in a rural unit has to be able to cope with a sick newborn and have a good understanding of the underlying pathology and physiology and be able to support that infant until it is transferred."
Ms McCaffery congratulated the students on their hard work during a difficult year.
"You now hold the privileged position of being a midwife, to be with a woman in one of the most important times in their and their families lives.
"You are also as a midwife the guardian of normal birth. Hold on to that privilege as tight as you can and close to your heart."