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The Clinical Academic Doctorate

Researching and studying for a doctorate may be appealing to midwives, but it poses a difficult choice. A part-time PhD means attempting to study on top of a busy and demanding clinical position, but full-time study means stepping away from practice which many midwives worry will lead to a loss of the clinical skills and confidence that took time and effort to develop during training.

Academics in BU’s Centre for Midwifery, Maternal and Perinatal Health have devised a solution in partnership with Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust – the Clinical Academic Doctorate. The four-year clinical doctorate is designed to allow midwives to remain in practice and simultaneously conduct a piece of research. All research topics are jointly developed with the NHS trust to meet a real clinical need. The PhD students spend two days a week in clinical practice and three days conducting research and completing their doctorate.

Daisy Wiggins is the first graduate from the Clinical Academic Doctorate and went straight into the PhD after completing her undergraduate Midwifery degree at BU. Daisy’s research was commissioned by Portsmouth Hospital NHS Trust and focused on exploring the impact of the MyBirthplace app which was developed by the trust. MyBirthplace is a decision support tool that provides pregnant women with information about the choices of place to give birth allowing them to make the most informed decision possible. The risks and benefits of home births, midwife-led care and consultant-led care are all detailed in the app, along with the options for each near the mother’s home. The findings of Daisy’s research suggest that women felt more decisive about choosing a location for birth after accessing the app.

Daisy was recently awarded her doctorate and also won the Dr Eleanor Bond Prize for her PhD thesis. The prize is presented annually, in memory of Dr Eleanor Bond (1866-1952), a Bournemouth GP and strong supporter of university education and training for women. The award recognises a BU student for a piece of course work or a project which makes a valuable contribution to the provision or the management of primary health care.

For Daisy, having a clinical pathway to a PhD does more than maintain skills – the research enhances them. Daisy said: “Going into this journey as a newly qualified midwife, it was important for me to retain the clinical skills that I had worked so hard to gain. It is an excellent opportunity to fuse research with practice. Completing the Clinical Academic Doctorate put me in a position where I could continue to hone my midwifery skills and be active and present in clinical practice whilst also setting myself up with all the research skills needed to pursue many of the academic and research career options. The world is my oyster now.”

One of the major advantages to the Clinical Academic Doctorate is that it provides an attractive career option to recruit and retain talented midwives who wish to stay in clinical practice while researching areas that matter to the NHS, mothers and fellow midwives. It also has a real impact by making the research tangible and meaningful to the midwives that the PhD students work with on their clinical days. In Daisy’s case, her research on MyBirthplace was not an abstract concept to the midwives because they knew that Daisy was working on her PhD on her days away from clinical practice and so were interested and invested in the progress and outcomes of the research.

Professor Vanora Hundley, Daisy’s supervisor and Acting Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, said: “We are very proud of Daisy. She is the first student to complete this innovative programme and we believe that she is the youngest midwife in the UK to achieve her doctorate. This would not have been possible without the flexibility that this model of study offers. Combining practice with research and doctoral education, the Clinical Academic Doctorate reflects the Fusion approach for which Bournemouth University is known.”

Whilst the Clinical Academic Doctorate originated in Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, with several other midwives currently researching and working in clinical practice there, it has now expanded to several other south coast NHS trusts and other professional groups, like nursing. The doctorates mean that BU is working closely with several local NHS trusts to deliver the research that is needed by the health service and has a real impact on the care of women and their families in the region and further afield.