Objective: To explore the practice of midwifery within a busy urban tertiary hospital birth setting and to present findings on the relationships between nurses and midwives in providing maternity care.
Design/method: A focused ethnography on midwifery practice conducted over 2 years (2004-2006) in a teaching hospital serving a primarily Medicaid-eligible population in Northern California. Data were collected through participant observations and in-depth interviews with midwives (N=11) and nurses (N=14). Practices and relationships among the midwives and nurses were examined in an ethnographic framework through thematic analysis.
Findings: Two themes described the nature of nursing-midwifery relationships: tension and teamwork. Tension existed in philosophic approaches to care, definitions of safe practice, communication, and respect. Teamwork existed when the midwives and nurses worked in partnership with the woman to develop a plan of care. Changes were brought about to improve the midwife-nurse relationship during the conduct of the study.
Conclusions: Midwives and nurses experienced day-to-day challenges in providing optimal care for childbearing women. The power of effective teamwork was profound, as was the tension when communication broke down. Failure to include nurses resulted in impaired translation of evidence into practice. All stakeholders in birth practices and policy development must be involved in future research in order to develop effective maternity care models.