Midwifery in Manitoba is shrinking despite the launch of a training program in the north seven years ago and the fact dozens of internationally trained women are in-province, eager to join the profession.
There are now 35 practising midwives in the province, compared with 42 last November. Manitoba has funding in place for 54 midwives and according to one study could potentially accommodate as many as 200.
But the bachelor of midwifery program at University College of the North (UCN) has yet to produce a graduate -- it will issue its first degree to a northern Manitoba woman later this month. And the College of Midwives of Manitoba has yet to develop a successful process for registering internationally trained graduates.
After several false starts, the College of Midwives is hoping to have a formal process in place by November to begin accepting applications from foreign graduates. Candidates will be assessed and any gaps in their training will be identified. However, the earliest any of the internationally trained midwives would be able to practise is next spring -- if not next fall.
"It's something that we're going to want to do properly and safely and with the right processes in place," said Janice Erickson, College of Midwives registrar, this week.
Last fall, Health Minister Theresa Oswald expressed frustration at the slow pace of accrediting internationally trained grads. Many of them are lifetime residents of Manitoba who sought training in the U.S. because no program existed in southern Manitoba.
Oswald said last year the number of midwives here could virtually double overnight if there was an efficient process for assessing their credentials. A national association representing midwives responded by sending the minister a letter of rebuke.
Oswald said she respects politicians are "wholly ill-equipped" to assess the medical knowledge of a midwife. She merely wanted the college to modernize its assessment practices.
Nikki Ibbitt, a Winnipegger who completed her diploma in midwifery at El Paso, Texas, in 2011, said she is hoping the College of Midwives' new accreditation process will speed her entry into the profession.
"I don't want to be too negative. It has been frustrating," she said of her efforts to become registered to practise.
Ibbitt has considered enrolling in a three-month bridge-training program offered in Toronto to help her become accredited here, but she'd prefer to fill any educational gaps in-province.
UCN will graduate its first midwifery student this month and 10 more are set to graduate in 2014.
Linda Ross, a former dean of health studies at Brandon University, was brought in a few years ago to rescue the program. She said this week it will take some time to build the program up.
UCN has not accepted new entry-level students for some time as it concentrates on educating the dozen students currently enrolled. It does not expect to open its doors to new entry-level students until the fall of next year.
However, it is interested in providing bridge training to internationally trained midwives to help them become registered. "We would certainly like to be a part of that process," Ross said.