NHS Grampian is a force to be reckoned with."/>
It is a joy to watch three-day-old Jessica Martinez snoozing through her first photocall. This is what Aberdeen Maternity Hospital is all about – delivering healthy, happy babies to healthy, happy mums.
Hundreds of people across Grampian region work tirelessly to achieve that goal time and time again. And now they have a new champion in Professor Tracy Humphrey. A trailblazer in the profession, Tracy has recently been appointed the first Joint Clinical Professor of Midwifery at NHS Grampian and the Robert Gordon University School of Nursing & Midwifery.
In the first role of its kind in the North of Scotland, Tracy leads midwifery education, research and practice and moves clinical research forward within the Midwifery department, fostering closer links between the two organisations.
It is the latest promotion in the meteoric career of the 36-year-old Aberdonian. Tracy, who has been married for three years, initially trained as a nurse. But a desire to work within the community prompted her to undertake midwifery training at the University of Stirling Highland campus in Inverness, before taking up her first job as a midwife in Aberdeen Maternity Hospital.
She recollects, “While I had thoroughly enjoyed nursing, as early as my first day as a student midwife something clicked, and I knew this was what I really wanted to do”.
That remains the case.
“I derive huge satisfaction from working with women and families to help them have the best experience possible as they’re bringing new life into the world. I am completely awe-struck by the whole process, and wholeheartedly admire women who carry and deliver babies. I consider it an immense privilege to be part of that.”
It was not long before Tracy was promoted to Senior Midwife, and subsequently Labour Ward Sister. A belief in evidence-based practice led her to study for a Masters degree in Midwifery at the University of Aberdeen.
“I believe that the care midwives provide should be based on sound scientific evidence, and I wanted to be part of generating that evidence and supporting its translation into practice,” she iterates.
In 2004 Tracy was the only midwife selected for the prestigious Nursing Midwifery & Allied Health Professions Research Unit training scheme, securing one of only six fiercely contested, funded research studentship posts to undertake a PhD at the University of Aberdeen. Tracy carried out her research into the induction of labour, motivated by its rapid increase in recent years.
“I wanted to find out why one in three labours are now induced, and it became clear that this was not down to any increase in clinical necessity, but to choice.”
As a result of her findings, she developed a system of intervention whereby women could learn more about inductions. Her PhD, which was published online, is now being implemented throughout Grampian.
Throughout her career, she has focused on reducing unnecessary interventions before, throughout and after pregnancy.
“Caesarean sections are not a risk-free option, and carry significant repercussions for the future health of both women and children.”
She recognises that natural birth is not always the best option for every woman, saying, “It is a myth that women who opt for C-sections are ‘too posh to push’. In the majority of cases women have sound and justifiable reasons for making this decision.
“I counsel women who are planning to have a C-Section and help them to make informed decisions about their care.”
Three years beyond her PhD, she was appointed consultant midwife at NHS Grampian and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen. As well as being the clinical lead for midwifery practice in Grampian, Tracy led the local implementation of Keeping Childbirth Natural and Dynamic – a Scottish Government initiative to improve normality and reduce unnecessary interventions. Its success has resulted in an increase in the rate of normal births.
Tracy’s new post comes at a very exciting time for RGU, one of only three universities in Scotland awarded contracts for midwifery training. RGU’s North Scotland remit now encompasses Grampian, Tayside, Highland, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Tracy manages the midwifery education team, overseeing curriculum development, and doing some teaching in her areas of expertise. A gargantuan task in itself, but one which she combines with her responsibilities at NHS Grampian, where she retains a caseload of women.
While many might baulk at wearing two hats, Tracy relishes the responsibility.
“Inevitably there is a gap between theory and practice, but because I have a foot in both camps, I am able to translate evidence into practice, and that can only benefit women and babies.”
Having read of Tracy’s considerable achievements, I must confess to surprise at the disparity between this youthful, vivacious woman and the stereotype of the professor in an ivory tower.
“I have often been the youngest appointment in certain roles, and people are frequently surprised about what I have achieved in a short space of time. Women have said things like, ‘You cannot be the Consultant Midwife – you are too young for that’, or students don’t believe I can be a professor at my age. Your expertise is often judged initially by how old you are, which can be challenging, but for me it is the quality, not quantity of experience that is important.”
People have an emotional link to their local maternity hospital, but shifting demographics and financial pressures necessitate change, and Tracy has played an instrumental role in the much-publicised review of Grampian’s maternity services for the last two years. Women – wherever they live in Grampian –will have more local maternity care through Community Maternity Units, and with the redistribution of resources will be able to have continuous one-to-one midwifery support during labour.
The midwife’s role is critical for society as a whole, an opportunity to set babies on the best possible path for life. Looking to the future of the profession, the focus will be on vulnerable families and women with complex needs, those who are most likely to benefit from maternity care.
“Improving the health of the baby will support the health of the population in the long term.”
Tracy draws inspiration from the women she supports during the most physically, mentally and emotionally testing hours of their lives. Describing one notable episode, she says, “She was a young woman having her first baby. When I came on duty for a night shift she had been in labour for many hours and was making slow progress. Her partner was a fantastic support, but they were both exhausted and beginning to get anxious, as it was looking like she might need a Caesarean section.
“She was called Sharon and I joked about our names, saying that we would be dancing round our handbags in the early hours of the morning, and this seemed to relax them.
“With some gentle persuasion she got off the bed and started to walk around, swaying her hips during contractions. I watched her confidence grow and within a few hours, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. We were all in tears. I felt privileged to be a part of such an intimate part of their lives.
“Afterwards they wrote me a moving letter, and every now and again, when work is particularly challenging, I take it out and read it. It reminds me that women can achieve what seems like the impossible, if they have the right support and encouragement.”
A woman of formidable intellect and capabilities, fierce work ethic and infectious enthusiasm, Tracy is a force to be reckoned with. I leave her company with the unshakeable conviction that the women of Grampian – and their babies – could not be in safer hands.
A Buckie quine, Pauline Smith has a degree in English from the University of Aberdeen. After teaching at Peterhead and Oldmachar academies, she studied Publishing with Journalism at RGU where she later worked as a Communications Officer. Now she combines motherhood with writing.Tweet
This is an article from the May 2012 edition of Leopard Magazine. To read much more like this every month, subscribe to Leopard Magazine.