The advantages of double degrees in nursing and midwifery

Michael Larin, Clinical Nurse Specialist

Many university students choose double degrees in nursing and midwifery to broaden their skills, knowledge and versatility, and the increased career opportunities it can offer.

Michael Larin, a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) who works in the recovery unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, completed a Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery at Monash University in 2016.

He elected to pursue the double degree for a range of reasons but primarily to keep his options open.

“My main motivation was that I felt it opened a lot of doors for me because I didn’t have to decide immediately what specialty or field I wanted to go into immediately,” he recalls.

“I knew I wanted to pursue medical and health, for job security, but what part of that, because it’s so broad, I wasn’t too sure about. [The double degree] afforded me that flexibility of experiencing different specialities, experiencing differing things and then gave me ample time to decide what area I wanted to move into.”

Double degrees allow students to undertake two degrees at the same time. A dual degree in nursing and midwifery generally takes four years of study.

Michael says he didn’t struggle with balancing the two distinct areas of study, but found the time and effort required to complete the degree challenging.

“There was limited time off. When you’re technically on holidays, you were on placement and weren’t able to have that relief like the rest of your friends and go on holiday for that interim semester break. You had to sit your exams, then go on placement straight after that, and as soon as your placement finishes, you’re back into classes. That was the most challenging part, but it was offset by how rewarding your career is once you finish.”

After graduating, Michael began working at the Royal Children’s Hospital in 2017.

He says studying a double degree in nursing and midwifery has given him the specialist clinical skills to seamlessly work across both professions, with the increased knowledge helping to improve patient care and provide better outcomes for patients.

“Some of the skills that I learnt in midwifery I actually apply when delivering pain management for children in the recovery unit, such as slow breathing techniques and getting them to take a step back and channel positive thoughts,” he explains.

Michael’s advice to future students contemplating a double degree in nursing and midwifery is to seriously consider if they have the drive and determination to make it through the unrelenting four-year journey.

“It’s definitely not easy and at times I felt like I was wavering upon the decision but if they believe they can stay committed for four years, then 100% go for it. But that’s something they have to strongly evaluate, if they can basically do eight months of study constantly in a year instead of having it broken up between each semester.”

Midwife and endoscopy nurse Courtney Alexander took the same route, choosing a double degree in nursing and midwifery at Monash, graduating in 2017.

For Courtney, selecting the double degree came about by chance.

She was two years into an arts degree, majoring in sociology and criminology, when she decided she wanted to pursue something else.

She googled nursing, then came across midwifery, and soon decided to try her luck be undertaking the double degree.

Looking back, similar to Michael, Courtney says the hardest part of the double degree was juggling the workload and competing interests.

“You’ve got your Continuity of Care experiences [midwifery] that you have to do, you’ve got your placements, which are double the placements of the nursing students, you’ve got your classes, your assignments, and then you’re trying to work in amongst that to get by. It’s really tough, it was a difficult time and it hammered home to me the importance of time management.”

After completing the dual degree, kicked off her career as a nursing/midwifery graduate at Monash Health in Clayton, Victoria.

Her graduate year involved multiple rotations across nursing and midwifery areas. A year later she took on a secondment to the special care nursery.

At the beginning of 2020, Courtney moved to England, scoring a job as a neonatal nurse.

She had planned to stay working in the UK for three years, but then the global COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“For the three months I was working there we were wearing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and working really hard. It was two weeks after I arrived there that we went into lockdown.”

Weighing up the situation, Courtney decided to return home to Australia. She returned home mid-year and emerged out of hotel quarantine on 11 June.

Upon her return, she found part-time work with Monash Health’s Casual Bank, but her primary role was as an endoscopy nurse.

Last October, she secured her old midwifery position back at Monash, and continues to pick up shifts every fortnight in endoscopy, a working mix she relishes.

“Coming back from overseas, all the jobs going were very much nursing-based. Midwifery roles weren’t really coming up. I was just happy to get work and then fell in love with endoscopy,” Courtney explains.

Courtney says working as a nurse and midwife keeps things interesting.

“I love the people I work with across both jobs. My midwifery job is quite acute and really busy, because it’s a tertiary hospital. I find it very stressful sometimes, but with endoscopy I go there and it’s a breath of fresh air.”

A few years on from completing the double degree, Courtney considers herself fortunate to have undertaken the double degree and believes it has set her up to tackle anything in the future.

“I found the skills I gained in nursing really helped me in midwifery. For example, when I’ve got really acute patients. The pregnancy itself might not be an issue, but when there’s baseline cardiomyopathy and that kind of thing.”

“Midwifery is a real philosophical shift in a sense in that you’re working with women and their families and aiming to provide patient-centred care. I like transferring that mentality over to nursing because I think you can relate to patients in a different way.”

She warns prospective students considering a double degree that it is likely to be a rollercoaster, however, it is ultimately worth it.

“Students need to be aware of their time and time management. Make sure to speak up early if things are clashing, for example, you’ve got a placement for midwifery and they haven’t realised you’ve got a placement for nursing coming up. Be on top of that and make sure everything is progressing as it should.

Courtney doesn’t know what the future holds but is confident she has the skills to take her anywhere.

“I don’t know exactly what my career is going to look like, but I know I have the ability to do pretty much anything.”

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