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Sport, Health & Wellbeing

GRADS 2020: JO EVANS – celebrating and supporting the transformational nature of birth

Registered Midwife Jo Evans walks into work every day with a spring in her step. She’s working her dream job, one in which she gets to make a difference in the lives of women and their families.

“It’s a privilege to be part of such a transformational life event – it’s a private moment, but as a midwife, you get to support women to become mothers,” she says.

“Midwifery is about supporting the normal physiology of pregnancy, birth and the early postnatal time” Jo says. “My hope is that all women know that birthing can be positive and empowering, and that they build knowledge to trust in the physiology of birth.”

For Jo, it was having her own children that sparked her love for the vocation.

“I was in my mid-30s when I had both my children, who are now teenagers,” she says. “And I was surprised by just how beautiful and life-changing my pregnancy and birthing experiences were.”

The seeds of a dream had been sowed – but after her own children were born, it was several years before that spark turned into a full-blown passion for Jo.

“I was holding a friend’s baby one day, and I said, you know, I’ve always wanted to be a midwife,” Jo says. “And she said: well, why don’t you?”

It was the moment that clarified and crystallised a new path for the former schoolteacher and public servant.

Jo decided to pursue a Bachelor of Midwifery at the University of Canberra in 2017, studying three years with a full-time load. Along with her cohort, she had rostered practice practicum for one year and exposure to continuity of care models for two years as part of her studies.

“It’s a very challenging degree, and the only one where the prac sees you working on-call” Jo says. “Midwifery-led continuity of care is the gold standard, a model with very positive outcomes and high levels of satisfaction for both women and midwives.”

Other unique aspects of the midwifery program at UC include accompanying women on antenatal and post-natal visits, and learning to suture and cannulate.

In the course of her studies, Jo racked up an impressive number of awards and scholarships.

She is the 2020 winner of the Herbert Burton Medal from UC, an annual award to a graduating student who has achieved outstanding academic results and made a valuable contribution to the University or wider community.

In her second year of study, Jo won the Dr Jenny Browne Prize, an award for a second-year midwifery student who has led change through thoughtful and brave midwifery work. She also capped every single semester of study by winning the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence.

In 2017, Jo received a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a Healthcare Engagement at Vaiola Hospital in the Kingdom of Tonga, and followed that with the Canberra Rural Allied Health and Nursing Collective Scholarship 2018 for Work Experience at Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Regional Health and Community Services – Bega.

She was also part of the ACT Health Vacation Research Scholarship Program 2017–18 - MidTREC (Canberra) for a study on midwifery turnover, retention, experiences and choices. “The findings were presented at The Canberra Hospital in March 2018, and following on from this work I was the lead author for a peer-reviewed journal article, The future in their hands: Graduating student midwives’ plans, job satisfaction and the desire to work in midwifery continuity of care, published in Women and Birth,” Jo says.

Newly-graduated this year, Jo is currently employed by ACT Health at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children – where most of her practical training was done – in the Transition to Practice Graduate Program.

“I felt really well-prepared, the transition from student to graduate midwife was very smooth, thanks to the UC program,” she says.

But graduation doesn’t mean Jo is bidding UC farewell – she’s currently doing her Honours year, with a paid scholarship from ACT Health. Jo’s Honours research project is a Systematic Integrative Review of the effects of bushfire exposure on birth outcomes and childbearing women’s healthcare needs during and after exposure to bushfire smoke or a bushfire disaster.

“I just thoroughly enjoyed studying, so I decided to do my Honours!” she says. “I want to always be a practising midwife, but I would also like to explore doing a PhD at some point in the future.

“Because midwifery-led birthing has such great outcomes for women, I feel we should continue to build a profile as a distinct occupation – and the more academic midwives we have, the better for our discipline.”

Words by Suzanne Lazaroo, photo by Madeleine Wood.

Jo is from the University of Canberra’s graduating class of 2020 – the first year that graduations will be held virtually.

It's been a challenging year unlike any other – and our graduates have risen to meet it with spirit, heart and courage.

Many of our world-ready graduates are already pushing boundaries and blazing trails in their chosen industries. Many others have one foot in the industry, and one in academia, as they further their postgraduate learning.

We are proud of you, and we cannot wait to see what you will do next.

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