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As part of International Day of the Midwife, Emma O’Brien caught up with Yvonne Kenworthy – Lead Research Midwife in the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility (CCRF), which is led by Prof Paul Leeson. CCRF facilitates high quality cardiovascular research within a clinical research environment with particular expertise in echocardiography, vascular assessment and clinical physiology.

Conducting a study at CCRF © John Cairns

When did you decide to become a midwife?

I actually started my career as a photojournalist! I worked for various newspapers eventually becoming a Producers’ Assistant on feature films. Having had my three children I knew that the career path wasn’t compatible with family life and reassessed my options. I felt I now had a better understanding of the challenging role of a midwife and looked into this as a new career path – I hoped I could use my knowledge and life skills in a new setting.

I commenced my BSc (Hons) in Midwifery and graduated in 2003 from Oxford Brookes University. I decided to work as a community midwife and I had my own case load that I loved supporting throughout their pregnancies.

What prompted the role into research midwifery?

During my role as a community midwife I gained experience in various research studies –engaging the women I saw in a variety of projects and audits. This piqued my interest in running studies and trials, and I took the big decision to leave midwifery to get a better grounding in research. I started at the Oxford Vaccine Group, where I worked on a meningitis B vaccination trial in infants. I received an excellent training in research and was part of a team who vaccinated over 4000 children, resulting in the childhood meningitis B vaccine now being part of the vaccination protocol nationally. But I really missed working as a midwife so I knew I needed to get back to that.

You started in CCRF in 2011, tell us about your role here

I am the Lead Research Midwife in CCRF, which means my role is related to women’s health and pregnancy. Over 2000 research participants come through CCRF each year and some of our work focuses on the long term consequences of pregnancy complications and pre-term birth – with a particular focus on cardiovascular health.

The first study I worked on looked at the link between pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia or gestational hypertension (high blood pressure in pregnancy) and maternal cardiovascular health in later life. As time passed I’ve become involved in lots of different aspects of CCRF, including being part of the management team and Project Steering Committee.

I’m currently involved in a study called OxWatch, which follows women from the time they are thinking about becoming pregnant, through pregnancy to three months after the birth of their baby to determine the impact of pre-pregnancy maternal health on pregnancy and long term health.

I am also involved in trial management for the TEPHRA study, which aims to better understand how exercise can alter blood pressure in people aged 18-35. We’re trying to understand whether there is any difference between adults who were born pre-term and those who were born at term. The trial involves an exercise intervention at the Oxford Brookes gym which is where I liaise with the participants and specialist exercise team. After the initial training I provide motivational interviewing to keep them on track. We’re recruiting if anyone wants to join!

You’re the only midwife in the team – how do you keep in the loop with others in similar roles?

I have strong links with the Women’s Centre due to the nature of my work and have been involved in a number of projects with the team there. We recently completed a study TREAT Gdm that looked at how we can manage blood glucose in women with gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy). Rather than having to come into the clinic frequently, women uploaded their blood sugar readings into a smart phone app which we could monitor and advise on. The app is now being used in clinical care in the hospital.

I’m involved in a number of networks with other midwives, which is really helpful. I’m currently a Midwife Champion for a national collaboration between midwives and reproductive researchers. It’s a good way to share good practice. I’m joint chair, along with Lisa Gaughran, of the Cardiovascular Research Nurse & Midwife Forum (CRNMF). I’m also developing a support group for midwives in the Women’s Centre within which we hope to share good practice and develop a competency framework for research midwives

What is your favourite part of the job?

I love the variety and interaction with people. I am also part of a great team who work well together. It’s important to me that I do something I enjoy.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering a career in research midwifery?

It’s important to get a good grounding in midwifery in the first instance – I worked for six years as a community midwife and really loved working towards a good pregnancy outcome with the women I looked after. Once deciding to move into research, it’s important to get good training as it’s a new skill set, which is very different to clinical practice. As the only midwife in CCRF and division of Cardiovascular Medicine, I enjoy giving support to colleagues, if asked, in all aspects of their pregnancy journey!