Bank's move to cut credit line threatens profession, midwives say

Midwives in Ontario are expressing frustration over what they see as a lack of support for their profession after a major bank cut access to a professional line of credit for midwifery students in the province.

Midwifery students must now have co-signor for loan of up to $80K against projected income, RBC says

A midwife tends to a newborn baby. Midwives follow women throughout their pregnancy and labour, and provide care after birth. (Sudbury Community Midwives)

Midwives in Ontario are expressing frustration over what they see as a lack of support for their profession after a major bank cut access to a professional line of credit for midwifery students in the province. 

RBC offers special lines of credit to students in training to become lawyers, veterinarians and many other professions. The bank recently changed its rules so that midwife students are no longer eligible for the funds without a co-signor.

For a lot of people the RBC line of credit ... was a lifesaver, including for me.- Liz Fraser, Association of Ontario Midwives

Liz Fraser, an Ottawa midwife who sits on the board of the Association of Ontario Midwives, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning a career in midwifery is a lot more costly than many people might expect. 

"Because many of the midwifery students are mature students, they may not be eligible for things like provincial student loans," Fraser explained. "If you have a spouse who is employed and you're lucky enough to have that situation, that's factored into the decision of whether or not to offer you a student loan."

Other banks have professional lines of credit, but not for midwifery students. 

"So for a lot of people the RBC line of credit ... was a lifesaver, including for me," Fraser said.

Managing debt

In an email, RBC spokesperson AJ Goodman told CBC the change was made to ensure students take on manageable levels of debt.

"Previously, midwifery was part of our special segment, where we lent up to $80,000 against the borrower's projected income. Midwifery students applying for funding are now required to have a co-signor," Goodman said.

"This change will ensure students take on manageable levels of debt while they are at an early stage in their educational and professional careers, and have the oversight needed to manage their debt."

But Fraser pointed out RBC still offers the line of credit to students in other professional programs, regardless of their ability to manage debt.

She added there's concern among midwifery students that "there might be some gender bias at play."

It's an unconscious devaluing of work traditionally done by women as part of their social role, usually for free," Fraser explained. "We're talking nursing, midwifery, childcare, that kind of thing," she said. 

Long-term implications

According to the Ontario Association of Midwives website, midwives oversaw about 22,000 births between April 2015 and March 31. There are 839 midwives practising in the province, and approximately 80 students graduate from midwife programs each year. 

"Unfortunately, a lot of students who don't have the opportunity to access funding may have to delay the program or may have to even drop out," she said. 

"I know a lot of them are already talking to the programs about taking a year off to work or even dropping out altogether, which is really sad for Ontario families."

Why midwife students are taking on RBC bank over a line of credit they say they need to support the profession in this province. 4:58