While the centre’s first location was small — a couple of rooms in an administration building at the back of St George Hospital — its vision, since its inception in the early 1990s, was clear.
Twenty-five years ago, the very idea of midwives being university educated, let alone holding a professorial position or academic post, was met with resistance by many groups. Lesley Barclay, the centre’s first director, led by example as one of the first clinical chairs in midwifery and family health in Australia.
Lesley Barclay, together with Michael Chapman, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Jo Wills, Senior Midwifery Manager at St George Hospital in Sydney, established a strong research portfolio and supported young academics. A large proportion of midwifery professors around the country today obtained their doctorates through our centre.
Many of our current team, including Maralyn Foureur, Nicky Leap, Pat Brodie, Joanne Gray, Cathrine Fowler and Caroline Homer, are key players in research and have changed the face of midwifery and child and family nursing practice in Australia and globally.
Former Centre Director, Caroline Homer hailed from a background where women, especially nurses, were not expected to go to university. She completed her PhD — a randomised controlled trial on continuity of midwifery care for women — at St George Hospital. Her research has, and continues to raise the standard of midwifery-led care across the country. She says the support and constructive feedback received from Lesley Barclay and others, in those early days, is an ethos that lives on in the centre today.
Led by Joanne Gray, UTS also set about getting the Bachelor of Midwifery off the ground. “It was ten years of absolute fighting,” says Homer. Part of the challenge involved having to get the Nurses’ Act legislation changed in the NSW Parliament to enable the direct-entry midwives to practise. Added to that, in those early years, getting indemnity insurance for a new course such as midwifery was a challenge and “fortunately, the NSW Health Department supported the first year so we could start,” she said.
The first Bachelor of Midwifery intake comprised of just 30 students and many of those graduates have gone on to do great things in midwifery practice, education and research. Today, students from that very first cohort are completing doctoral degrees. For Caroline, and others, who were told during those early years, “Over my dead body will you have a direct-entry midwifery degree,” telling a student they’ve just passed their doctorate in midwifery after a direct-entry degree, is the realisation of a vision.
And to think it all began with a handful of believers in a few rooms at the back of a hospital.