How to Become a Nurse Midwife

by Courtney Smith-Kimble
Reviewed by Meredith Wallis, CNM, NP
How to Become a Nurse Midwife

Students exploring how to become a nurse midwife can use this guide to learn about different aspects of the profession, from common duties to certification requirements. This page also offers details on educational criteria, including admission requirements, curriculum, skills acquired, and average program lengths. The remaining portion discusses work environments and frequently asked questions.

What Is a Nurse Midwife?

Midwifery is a health profession that focuses on pregnancy, childbirth, and typically the first six weeks of postpartum. Expecting parents worldwide often prefer to work with midwives as they can provide a more intimate, individualized, and informative experience. For instance, some private-practice midwives can offer special services, including at-home births. Research shows that people who use midwife-led care also benefit from better health outcomes, fewer interventions, and higher levels of satisfaction.

Many midwives also work in birth centers, obstetrician and gynecologist offices, and hospitals. Responsibilities include providing primary care for pregnant patients, performing physical exams, developing patient care plans, and educating people on birth options. Aspiring practitioners should explore the midwife career page to learn more about this role.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Midwife

Students interested in learning how to become a nurse midwife must first hold a registered nurse (RN) license, which requires either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree. While an ADN is the minimum requirement to become an RN, a BSN is required to pursue advanced degrees. Students interested in advanced nurse midwife positions can earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree to become a certified nurse midwife, or CNM. CNMs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

The following section provides information on the length of each degree path, exam details, and licensure requirements.

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree.
A BSN is a four-year degree that develops students' leadership skills and offers more opportunities than an associate degree. However, students interested in quickly launching their career may want to consider an ADN.
An ADN only requires two years of study and students qualify for a state license. Alternatively, students with a bachelor's degree or college experience in another field should consider an accelerated BSN, which can offer a quicker path to a nurse midwifery degree.
Learn More About Nurse Midwife Schooling
2. Pass the NCLEX Exam.
Aspiring midwives must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to begin working entry-level nursing positions. This exam includes four major categories and eight subcategories. The NCLEX uses variable question formats and may include up to 145 questions.
3. Gain Nursing Experience.
Most graduate-level nursing programs require at least 1-2 years of clinical experience before admission. Hands-on experience can aid in applications to competitive graduate programs.
4. Enroll in a Graduate Nursing Midwifery Program.
Students exploring midwifery should plan to earn their MSN in two years with full-time attendance, while part-time students may earn their degree in up to five years. While an MSN is the minimum requirement for CNMs, students can go on to earn a DNP, a terminal nursing degree, in 3-4 years with full-time attendance. Universities may also offer part-time options, which require up to seven years. A DNP allows students to truly target the population and issues they want to focus on.
Read About Choosing a Specialization
5. Earn Specialty Certification and APRN Licensure.
Advanced nurse midwife schooling allows students to take a national certification exam for the nurse-midwifery specialty. National certification through the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) indicates practitioners possess expert knowledge and skills to serve patients. To qualify, students must earn their degree from a school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education and hold an unencumbered RN license. CNMs need to apply for recertification every five years. Once nurse midwives pass their certification exam, they can apply for an advanced practice nursing license in their state. Requirements for licensure vary by state.
Learn About Nurse Midwife Credentials
6. Find Employment.
RNs should consider their desired target population to determine which facilities would best serve their future career goals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects a 12% increase in demand for midwives through 2029. However, students should consider factors that can make them stand out among the competition, such as credentials and experiences.
Read About Working as a Nurse Midwife

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Nurse Midwife Schooling

The minimum degree requirement for certified nurse midwives is an MSN. Students should note that the amount of time it takes to become a nurse midwife depends on how much education and experience applicants hold. The following sections outline admission requirements, curriculum objectives, and average program lengths.

BSN Degree

Students who want to become a midwife should begin with earning a BSN, which prepares graduates for an MSN. ADN graduates also qualify for an RN license. However, practitioners would need to consider alternative bridge programs to earn an MSN.

  • Admission Requirements: 2.5 GPA; resume; essay; 2-3 letters of recommendation
  • Program Curriculum: Courses may include fundamentals of caregiving and introductory science and math classes. Students must also complete clinical field experiences.
  • Time to Complete: Four years with full-time attendance
  • Skills Learned: Students learn to provide exceptional patient care to diverse communities and develop evidence-based practice, leadership, and management skills.

MSN Degree

An MSN is the minimum requirement to become a nurse midwife or CNM. Practitioners often choose to earn this degree to launch their midwife career as it requires less time than a DNP.

  • Admission Requirements: 3.0 GPA; resume; three letters of recommendation; an RN license; some schools may ask for GRE scores
  • Program Curriculum: MSN programs emphasize clinical leadership and patient advocacy. Courses may include gynecologic health, advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology, and healthcare ethics. Students must participate in clinicals to qualify for licensure.
  • Time to Complete: Two years with full-time attendance; ADN-holders may qualify for accelerated bridge programs
  • Skills Learned: Students build on their interpersonal communication, decision-making, and clinical leadership skills.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

To qualify for DNP programs, applicants must hold an MSN from an accredited institution. Some nurse midwifery programs allow students to complete their MSN and DNP in a bridge program, allowing students to receive both a master's and a doctorate in as little as three years. Practitioners who earn a DNP establish a competitive advantage in the field as subject-matter experts.

  • Admission Requirements: 3.0 GPA at minimum; an unencumbered RN license; GRE scores; clinical experience with target population
  • Program Curriculum: Objectives include independently maintaining and restoring women's health. Courses may include the science of healthcare delivery and multiple clinical experiences.
  • Time to Complete: Three years with full-time attendance on average
  • Skills Learned: Graduates gain advanced clinical instruction and research methods for improving patient outcomes.

Nurse Midwife Credentials

Nurse midwife schooling leads to national certification and a state license, which indicates that CNMs meet the minimum requirements to practice. Graduates must also earn American Midwifery Certification through the AMCB, which shows employers and patients that the candidate possesses pertinent knowledge and skills in the area of midwifery. Once certified, CNMs can apply for state licensure.

Certifications

A certified nurse midwife must earn certification to legally practice midwifery. The AMCB offers certification and sets the minimum standards for practitioners in the field. Qualified applicants must hold an advanced nursing degree from an accredited program and an unencumbered RN license. Applicants must complete a computer-based, four-hour exam at an approved testing site. The exam includes 175 multiple-choice questions.

Licensure

APRNs must acquire a state license to practice nurse midwifery. Students should review their state requirements when selecting schools as each state board of nursing establishes minimum standards, which may vary. Applicants should begin with earning their AMCB certification and then apply for a certificate of authority. State requirements for the renewal process varies. For instance, some states may require renewal biennially on odd numbered years.

Working as a Nurse Midwife

Students may want to consider building relationships during clinicals and field experiences as part of networking to help find jobs after nurse midwife schooling. Another strategy may include reaching out to practices prior to graduation or volunteering. BLS data shows that nurse midwives can earn about $115,540 on average. However, students should explore average salaries in their state or county to gauge earning potential.

Hospitals (State, Local, and Private)
CNMs offer primary care for expecting parents, collaborate with physicians, and provide nonsurgical methods of family planning.
Birthing Centers
CNMs assist parents with labor, provide emotional support, and monitor people in labor for complications.
Public Health Clinics
CNMs reduce the rates of poor outcomes such as stillbirth and preterm birth and address inequities in healthcare. They run initiatives to promote women's health.

Becoming a Nurse Midwife: FAQs


What is the fastest path to becoming a nurse midwife?

The path to becoming a midwife depends on students' level of education and experience. For instance, students just starting out may want to consider earning a BSN and then move on to an MSN, which requires about six years total with full-time attendance. BSN-holders only need to earn a MSN, which requires two years.

Why is it important that a nursing program be accredited?

Accrediting agencies set minimum standards for midwifery degrees. Employers, state nursing boards, and the AMCB use accreditations to determine if students possess the knowledge and skills to carry out their duties in the field. Students should also note that the AMCB requires applicants to hold a degree from an accredited school.

How much do nurse midwives make per hour?

Multiple factors can influence earning potential for midwives. Students may want to consider geographic location, workplace setting, education level, and experience. For instance, candidates with a DNP can command higher salaries than MSN candidates. However, in general, nurse midwives can earn $52.10 per hour on average as of May 2021, according to PayScale.

Is it hard to become a nurse midwife?

At minimum, students need to invest six years in their education. This field also requires hundreds of hours of field experiences. Additionally, students must pass licensing and certification exams. Practitioners interested in becoming experts in the field should plan to earn a DNP, requiring an additional 3-4 years of study.

Learn More About Nurse Midwives

Reviewed by:

Meredith Wallis, CNM, NP, is a certified nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She received her master's degree in midwifery from Oregon Health & Science University in 2011. Wallis specializes in out-of-hospital birth, lactation support, and childbirth education. Her professional passions include holistic medicine, vaginal birth after cesarean delivery, and evidence-based care.

Wallis is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

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