Midwife pilot inspires next generation of nurses and midwives to aim high

“My advice for those that are starting out is that you’ve got to believe in yourself,” says midwife, helicopter pilot and CEO Captain Jan Becker who has spent years saving babies’ lives in Africa.


Dr Becker gave some advice to those starting out in nursing and midwifery as she graduated in early October with a doctorate from the University of the Sunshine Coast for her work in sub Saharan Africa.

“Even if others don’t believe in you. If you’ve got a dream inside, even if it’s small, you just nurture that. You don’t have to run with the pack. Just run with your heart and I think you’ll find the magic in your career.

“And it’s not about now or the next five years, you might not achieve your dream for 20 years or you might achieve it in in one year.”

Captain Jan Becker is CEO of Becker Helicopter Services

Dr Becker is a clinical midwife and educator, CEO, helicopter pilot, and international leader with a Masters’ and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) who has combined a passion for flying with her skills as a midwife – while also inspiring the next generation of women to lead.

She has worked as a registered nurse and midwife in hospitals and remote settings across Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Africa. After working in PNG as a midwife, Dr Becker became passionate about reducing child mortality and improving maternal health in under-resourced countries.

With her daughter Chloe, she co-founded Midwife Vision Global, a not for profit organisation dedicated to neonatal resuscitation for midwives and doctors in Tanzania.

“Initially it was just a couple of midwives, my daughter (who was a student midwife at the time) who is a doctor now and myself, and so we decided to train midwives on how to resuscitate babies at birth and teach them all the major emergencies when a mother is having a baby – bleeding, sepsis, prolonged obstructed labour.

Dr Becker founded Midwife Vision Global which trains midwives in neonatal resuscitation in Tanzania

“In Tanzania we have 80-100 babies born a day and there’s three or four of us. We champion the local midwives because if you don’t train them to train more, then you’re just coming in with a band aid solution.”

Dr Becker’s recent PhD investigates the ‘silent voices’ of the midwives in Tanzania.

“In poor areas with high rates of very early neonatal deaths, midwives are impacted by the trauma almost daily, and this research raises awareness of their grief, insights and critical work to create change,” she says.

“The voices in Africa, they’re never heard. Their mothers have one dream – it’s that they live through labour and their baby lives – that’s their birth plan. It was about giving them a voice.”

The essence of Dr Becker’s research is ensuring life-saving measures are always given to babies who are born not breathing but with a heart rate.

Her studies found while it takes a long time to ‘unlearn’ old habits in traditional settings where knowledge is handed down, the new Hands On Training (HOT) program provides vital new skills to keep more babies alive in that critical first minute after birth.

“When a baby is born and doesn’t breathe, you’ve got about a minute. To see a baby go from dying and blue to pink and crying – it’s having the belief to unlearn and learn something new,” Dr Becker says.

Dr Becker at work

“It’s hard to do because it’s terrifying when a baby doesn’t breathe at birth and there’s chaos. There’s multiple births going on so you’ve got to focus. I just tell them ‘for one minute we are the focus for that baby. We are the champion for that baby. Nothing else matters.’”

The aim is to support midwives to have the courage to try new methods in such highly stressful clinical settings.

Dr Becker is also co-founder of Sunshine Coast Airport-based Becker Helicopter Services which started in a humble tin shed in 1996. As CEO, she coordinates emergency responses in floods, bushfires, and other emergencies as well as overseeing the training of the next generation of pilots. In the role, she’s helped the company to turn over $20 million a year and employ a staff of 70.

“We raise a lot of money through Becker Helicopters and that really started what we did in Tanzania.”

Dr Becker received an Order of Australia Medal for her service to aviation and community health, through neonatal organisations and is playing her part in inspiring women to take on greater leadership roles.

“When I was first appointed to the board, I was the first woman on the board in 58 years. My mission was to inspire other women, there’s now three women on the board and that’s the first time ever in history they’ve had that.” 

Dr Becker encourages early career nurses and midwives to aim high – to take every opportunity and run with it.

“My advice is you have a seed within you that made you want to study and don’t squander that. Run with whatever opportunity that comes along and it doesn’t have to be traditional.

“Go with the energy and believe in yourself. I really believe that because people are often squashed down with how you’re supposed to be or think.”

She says it’s also important to be a global citizen. “If you’re successful and you don’t give back in the world as a global citizen, I think you’re missing the point. It’s good to have success and take other people with you but also we’ve got to impact the world in some way.”

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