Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, has received an honorary degree at a ceremony which saw hundreds of Nursing and Midwifery students graduate from Bournemouth University.
On receiving her Honorary Doctorate in Education, Gill said, "It’s a humbling experience being given an honorary doctorate. It's about all the hard work, not just that I’ve put into midwifery, but everyone else I’ve worked with in my career and my friends and family who supported me. Ultimately, it’s about being recognised as a midwife, and that is a great thing.”
As Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, Gill is a passionate advocate for the difference that midwives make for women and families during maternity care.
“It’s exciting to see so many people graduating in Nursing and Midwifery today – the NHS really needs them," Gill continued. "Their enthusiasm is infectious, and I just want to capture a bit of it today, I hope they all go on to have really fulfilling careers.”
Gill’s 40-year career, which she refers to as a climbing frame rather than a ladder, has been driven by a natural tendency to question the status quo. Gill reflects that this desire to question began as a child, when she realised that her school’s approach to debating was little more than telling each side what they should say. Determined to follow her own path, Gill left school at 16 to study at a local college before starting her training as a nurse.
At that time there was no direct route to train as a midwife, but Gill was inspired to specialise after hearing how a group of pregnant women and mothers had chained themselves to the railings of a London hospital in protest against medicalised births. Gill felt that the medicalisation of a natural life process, without choice, was inherently wrong and started out on a mission to ensure that women were empowered to make the right decisions for themselves and their babies.
As Gill’s career progressed, she became one of the first midwives to complete a BSc in Nursing and Midwifery; a move which enabled her to bring a new research and evidence-based approach to clinical practice.
“It’s really important that when students learn new skills in a university, they can see it and put it into practice in a really good NHS organisation. That relationship is really important so that together the universities and the hospitals can get it right for the future generations of nurses and midwives," she explained.
She went on to lead maternity services across London and the south of England before joining the Royal College of Midwives as Chief Executive in 2017. Earlier this year she was appointed a CBE for services to midwifery.
In addition to representing the college’s 50,000 members and influencing national policy, Gill is most proud of her work to unite all those working in and around maternity care to improve services for women.
Her advice to the assembled Bournemouth graduates about to start their careers was to keep asking questions and, above all, to enjoy the privilege of being involved at the start of a new life and family.
Gill received her Honorary Doctorate in Education during Bournemouth University's graduation ceremony at the Bournemouth International Centre on 11th November.