Birth Professionals

Midwifery Students as Volunteer Doulas

The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health published an article about a program utilizing student nurse-midwives as volunteer doulas.  I’ve seen programs similar to this, using nursing students or midwifery students.  The program in the article combined the use of community doulas and midwifery students.

Having run a volunteer doula service myself I’m usually skeptical of the long term success of such a program. Being a volunteer is not the same as being paid (or getting class credit) for attending a birth. The volunteer has to feel as if the commitment benefits the women being served, and to some extent benefits the doula (or at least doesn’t disrupt life too much).

After the first birth or two it can be difficult to get volunteers to commit the time and effort needed for a busy service. Why? Because many volunteers do so because they think they want to be a doula, and after a birth or two they either decide it isn’t for them or they start their own practice.

You can make the commitment easier by scheduling on call days instead of assigning a doula or team to a woman, but there will be one or two volunteers who don’t get to be at a birth in the first few months and so feel as if the program offers them nothing to participate and neither the volunteer nor the women are benefiting because they are there. It’s tricky to work with volunteers.

This type of program has the benefit of using students – which means you have a regular supply of new, excited volunteers.  But that also means they will quickly become overwhelmed with a busy schedule and may not want to attend births as a volunteer after they start attending births as a student–a potential benefit of using student nurses instead of using student midwives.

Another benefit is that this  allows new midwives (and nurses) to learn about the doula role, and how to best work as a team at a birth.  I’ve also seen volunteer doula programs work well to get new doulas valuable experience as they learn to attend births.

What do you think about using students as volunteer doulas?  Do you have another way to bring volunteer doulas to your community?


Jennifer Vanderlaan (Author)