"After 28 years, I still love being a midwife"

To celebrate International Day of the Midwife, Denise O’Donnell, matron for inpatients at St Mary’s Hospital, explains why she loves her career and why she is proud to call herself a midwife.

Why did you want to become a midwife?

I wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember, and during the 1980s when I was a student nurse, I did a maternity placement. At the time I remember thinking ‘wow this is really great’, but back then midwives had to be qualified nurses first, so I finished my nursing training and even practised as a nurse for a while. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was meant to be a midwife so I changed direction and completed my midwifery training. I qualified in 1990, and I still love my job even after all this time.

How did you get the role you’re in now?

I started at St Mary’s Hospital in 1994 as a junior sister, and I’ve progressed from there. I’ve had various roles including team leader, labour co-ordinator, and labour ward manager, and that evolved into the position I am in today, working as a matron for inpatients. This role covers not just the labour ward, but also the antenatal ward and triage.

The biggest change I’ve noticed since I started working here has been merging with Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital when Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust was formed. We now have a much bigger team, which incorporates around 300 midwives, and it’s great to be a part of it. The staff retention in my department is really encouraging, with a lot of staff spending at least 10 years with the Trust. Many stay much longer, and there are even midwives still working who were here when I joined, which is lovely to see. It’s a very friendly unit – your colleagues really do become great friends. St Mary’s is a special place to work. It is a happy unit with a happy team.

What is your proudest moment as a midwife?

There are many amazing moments, and it’s hard to pick just one, but something that does stand out is the feeling you get when your colleagues have their own babies here and you get to care for them. They come back with their children to visit the staff, and as a result we get to see the little ones grow up. I’m always a bit shocked when I see them over time, it feels like they should all be in baby grows but instead they’re walking and talking! It’s so easy to lose track of time but it’s great to see.

What do you love about your career as a midwife?

My career is great because I get to experience what is fundamentally a very important time with many different families, and I’m always amazed when people take the time to write back and thank the midwife who cared for them. They like to share their positive memories and it’s great to know you are part of them. I remember being in Sainsbury’s once, and I was stopped by a woman who started chatting away. I racked my brain to think who this woman was, and then I remembered, of course I knew her – I had helped to deliver her second child! These moments last in a patient’s memory for a long time, and we get people come back with their little ones because they want to show them where they were born, which is wonderful. I really can’t see myself being in any other field of work.

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To celebrate International Day of the Midwife, our midwives, nurses and other staff will walk from St Mary’s Hospital to Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital at 13.30 on Friday 4 May. Join in the fun or follow along online at @ImperialPeople.

Learn more about nursing and midwifery roles at our Trust.