Nurse-midwifery is a health care specialization focused on supporting women through a healthy pregnancy, labor and postpartum period. Not only is midwifery a rewarding career, but it’s also highly in demand with a promising job outlook. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow 21% between 2016 and 2026.
If you’re thinking about launching your career as a midwife, you will need to understand the necessary prerequisite degrees, certifications and licensure exams. In this article, we outline all that you need to know about how to become a midwife as well as provide you with additional resources to help you get started.
What Is a Nurse-Midwife?
A nurse-midwife is a highly trained clinician who specializes in caring for the reproductive health and well-being of biological, intersex and transgender women and their newborns.
Although this article will focus on the first two types of certified midwives listed below, there are several other kinds of midwives, each requiring varying levels of education, certification and licensure:
If you are considering a career in midwifery, you may be wondering how long it takes to become a nurse-midwife. You will first want to consider which type of midwife you would like to become since the time investment varies by level of education, licensure and supervised clinical experience.
It can take about seven years to become a certified midwife and about eight years to become a certified nurse-midwife; the primary distinction being that a CNM requires a registered nurse license and a full year of nursing experience. Although CMs require nearly all of the same credentials as a CNM, they are limited in the number of states where they are allowed to practice in a certified capacity.
Prepare in High School
The journey to becoming a nurse-midwife can begin as early as freshman year in high school. This is the time when you will learn and develop the key skills that will set the foundation for further learning down the line. All high school core coursework, spanning from English, biology and chemistry, will come into play in your postsecondary education and professional experiences. Demonstrated special interest in human biology at this stage is an indicator that you may be a good candidate for a career in midwifery.
Time Investment: three to four years
Obtain an Associate or (Preferably) Bachelor’s Degree
Alternatively, the certified midwife credential was created to allow individuals with an undergraduate degree in a field of study other than nursing to go on to obtain a graduate degree in midwifery and eventually practice as a midwife. However, it’s important to consider that graduate programs in midwifery prefer an undergraduate focus on human anatomy and physiology, and if you plan to go into the field of midwifery, you should build your studies to reflect that area of specialization.
Time Investment: two to four years
Get Certified as a Registered Nurse and Gain Experience
To continue the path toward becoming a certified nurse-midwife, you will need to first become a certified registered nurse, which means that you will need to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination. Prior to taking the certification exam, you will need to complete an Authorization to Test and apply to your nursing regulatory body. You will want to begin the process with enough lead time before your ideal exam date. Applicants who do not pass the NCLEX are required to wait a 45-day study period before registering to take the exam again.
In addition to your RN certification, you will need to have at least one year of professional experience under your belt before you can apply to a graduate program in midwifery. This is the time to seek out work experience, preferably with an emphasis on women’s health or female reproductive health. Ideal settings for your work experience can take place in a hospital, birth center, clinic or private practice.
Time Investment: one to two years
Enroll in an ACME-Approved Graduate Program
To become licensed as a certified nurse-midwife, you must apply, enroll and graduate from a Master of Science in nursing program in nurse-midwifery or midwifery. Before applying, you must determine that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education. ACME-approved programs must meet and maintain certain criteria that assure that the standards of midwifery education are maintained and that graduates of these programs are sufficiently competent and qualified to practice midwifery.
Common requirements for midwifery graduate program admissions are as follows:
Degree in nursing from an accredited institution of higher education.
At least one year of professional experience as an RN in a clinical setting.
Fulfillment of undergraduate-level prerequisites in statistics, biology and the health sciences.
GRE test score.
Time Investment: two years
Pass the National Certification Exam
Following the completion of a Master of Science in nursing in midwifery, you will need to pass the national certification exam offered by the American Midwifery Certification Board. The certification exam establishes that an individual has entry-level competence to practice midwifery.
Similarly to the undergraduate certification exam, graduates will need to complete either a CNM or CM exam application through AMCB. Once your application is reviewed and approved, you will receive an email notification that you have met eligibility requirements and will be prompted to schedule the certification examination. You may schedule the exam at one of the testing centers run by Applied Measurement Professionals Inc.
You will be required to maintain the midwifery certification every five years throughout the course of your career. Once you are certified to practice midwifery, you will automatically be enrolled in AMCB’s Certificate Maintenance Program, which assists CNMs and CMs in maintaining competence by completing a series of modules on the following subjects:
Antepartum and Primary Care of the Pregnant Woman
Intrapartum, Postpartum and Newborn Health
Gynecology and Primary Care for the Well-Woman
An annual program fee is required to cover the basic Certificate Maintenance Program. Alternatively, CNMs and CMs may opt to pay the National Certification Examination fee of $500 and complete the AMCB recertification exam within the fourth year of the five-year certification cycle.
Education and Training Requirements To Become a Nurse-Midwife
Certified nurse-midwives must complete a postgraduate degree in either a Master of Science in nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice. While the majority of certified nurse-midwives hold an MSN (at about 92 percent), approximately 6 percent pursue a post-master’s certificate and 1 percent of midwives choose to pursue a DNP in order to advance into leadership roles within the field, according to Data USA.
A postgraduate degree is critical for learning the basics of midwifery, including the theoretical basis of nursing, public policy related to advanced nursing practice and understanding the health care system, as well as for gaining practical experience in labor and delivery. Most importantly, an MSN is a prerequisite for certification from the AMCB.
Educational Prerequisites and How To Become a Midwife Without a Nursing Degree
The majority of Master of Science in nursing programs in midwifery require a prerequisite undergraduate nursing degree from an accredited program and a certification as a registered nurse. However, there are MSN programs that will accept and enroll career-changers and non-nurses into their programs. A student without an RN license is eligible to become a certified midwife, with limited certification options determined by each state. In those instances, a science-based undergraduate degree is encouraged.
What Are ACME-Approved Graduate Programs?
Choosing the right MSN program for you can be a challenge. You will need to consider important factors such as a program's ranking, location and whether it offers an online or distance-learning option.
Online MSN programs available today can be quite rigorous and are offered by a number of prestigious universities. Online programs offer various advantages compared to a traditional on-ground learning environment, such as a hybrid learning experience combining digital coursework complemented by in-person clinical rotations. The online component also offers increased flexibility, saving busy nurses and professionals the additional time needed to commute to and from campus.
That said, the most critical component in enrolling in the best MSN program is to find and select one of ACME’s approved graduate programs since it will have a direct impact on your eligibility for your final midwifery certification.
What Are ACME-Approved Doctoral Programs?
If you are a midwife looking to further advance your career, you may be considering a Doctor of Nursing Practice program. Before choosing a DNP program, you will also want to find and enroll in an ACME-approved DNP program such as the following:
Before selecting one of the ACME-approved programs, consider whether they carry any specializations in a niche area of interest. For example, DNP programs offer specializations in areas ranging from women’s health to primary health care.
Examination, Licensure and Certification Requirements
Anyone who wishes to become a certified nurse-midwife or a certified midwife will need to go through various examinations for licensure and certification before they can practice midwifery in a clinical setting.
If you plan to become a certified nurse-midwife, you will be required to sit for the RN certification from the National Council Licensure Examination following your graduation from an undergraduate nursing program.
To be eligible to receive a nurse-midwifery certification for either CNM or CM, you will be required to complete a Master of Science in nursing degree and must pass the American Midwifery Certification Board exam. Midwives with either a CNM or CM certification must recertify via the Certificate Maintenance Program or by sitting for the AMCB recertification exam every five years.
Some Experiences To Help You Succeed
If you are an undergrad but are thinking about a career in midwifery, you may want to consider volunteering your time or shadowing a midwife working in a hospital, clinic or health care setting. Additionally, you may gain additional insight from interning or volunteering with a social work agency focused on maternal and infant health.