A Calgary college is working to put together a midwifery degree program to meet the demand for midwives expected once the province begins to cover the cost of their services next month.
The Alberta Association of Midwives is working with Mount Royal College to create a midwifery degree program that could start taking students as early as the fall of 2010.
"What better way to get more midwives on the ground practising than to have a homegrown program that is offered and available to women in Alberta, where they don't have to leave their families," said midwife Meryl Moulton, who is helping set up the program.
Demand for midwives in Alberta is expected to be high when the province begins to pay the $3,500 fee for their services as of April 1. Alberta only has 33 practising registered midwives, compared to more than 400 in Ontario, where their services have been funded since 1994.
Looked at another way, Ontario's population is about three and a half times that of Alberta, but has more than 12.5 times as many midwives.
Currently, British Columbia and Ontario are the only provinces that offer four-year degree programs for midwifery.
Supply can't meet demand
Cochrane midwife Joy West-Eklund said training more midwives would help alleviate the shortage.
"We are unfortunately having to put women sometimes on a waiting list. We can't meet the demand right now," she said.
'Now we almost have a bigger problem of not having a lot of trained midwives in the province.'—Bonnie Bend
"There has to be a way to educate the health-care professionals so that they can meet the demand from the public. And the public has to understand that this can't happen overnight. And we're making every effort we can to do that and that's the best that we can do, she said.
Expectant Calgary mom Bonnie Bend said she wanted to have a midwife for her first delivery, but at the time she couldn't afford the cost.
"I was just really unsatisfied with that experience," she said.
When she was pregnant with her second child, she and her husband made sacrifices to afford West-Eklund's services. Now pregnant with her third – due in September – Bend is thrilled that the province is picking up the tab.
"I guess I will be one of the first to be fully funded so, yes, it is pretty exciting," she said. "However if it weren't, we would gladly pay double to have that kind of experience again."
Although midwifery care is available to people of all income levels as of April 1, the waiting lists mean few Alberta women will be able to experience a birth with a midwife, said Bend.
"Now we almost have a bigger problem of not having a lot of trained midwives in the province," she said.