Here's What You'll Study as a Nurse Midwife

Nurse midwives perform an array of tasks. Here's the degree path you'll need to travel to become one.

What degree levels are available?

nurse midwife patting baby's feet

Based on your background, you'll need to decide the educational path to take to become a nurse-midwife, but always keep an eye on the prize: A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) at a certified nurse midwife school. The program must be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME).  

Weigh your school options based on your current educational needs and timetable.

Associate's Degree Programs

An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) includes courses in anatomy, nursing, chemistry, microbiology among others. Earning an ADN opens the door to entry-level staff nurse positions which will provide you with some experience in the medical field.

From here, you can enroll in a "bridge" program where you'll earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree and a midwifery graduate education. This same path can be followed if you earn a diploma from an approved nursing program. You'll typically hear this option referred to as RN-to-MSN programs.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Another option is to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) and then continue on to graduate-level certified nurse midwife training.

On the other hand, an RN-to-BSN program will teach you how to work with individuals and communities and understand the general practice of nursing. As an example of a typical course load, Sullivan University's online RN-to-BSN offers the following coursework:

Examples of BSN Core Courses  

  • Anatomy and Physiology I and II with lab (general studies)
  • General Chemistry (general studies)
  • Introduction to Statistics (general studies)
  • Public Speaking (general studies)
  • Composition I and II (general studies)
  • Introduction to Psychology (general studies)
  • Introduction to online and accelerated learning in nursing (upper division nursing courses)
  • Issues in nursing (upper division)
  • Holistic nursing and Complementary Alternative Therapies (upper division)
  • Community theory and family theory (upper division)

If you've already earned a bachelor's degree in another field and are interested in becoming a nurse-midwife, you do have options that don't involve starting from scratch. "Direct-entry" programs are designed for people with a 4-year degree in another field and provide nursing and midwifery classwork and training. It is usually referred to as a BA/BS to RN and CNM option.

Master's Degree Program

The Master of Science in Nursing is your ultimate goal when working toward a nurse-midwife career. When researching schools, you'll want to look for a certified nurse-midwife school.

It's best to check with the individual college, but you may be expected to have up to a year of labor and delivery experience, a current registered nurse license in the state where the college is located and an explanation of why you want to become a nurse-midwife.

Earning an MSN can take between 18 to 24 months for full-time students. Part-time options are available and usually take between three to four years. Be aware that some schools will require that you finish your training in a certain amount of time, so if you attend part-time, find out what that deadline is.

Coursework for certified midwifery will rely heavily on teachings about labor and delivery, plus other health issues related to women. Other courses will cover advanced physiology and pathophysiology, applied pharmacology, intrapartum and postpartum care, professional midwifery issues, research methods, public policy leadership and advanced practice nursing roles and issues.

As an example of an MSN program, Regis University offers you the choice between and education and management focus. Typical coursework may involve:

  • Examining theoretical basis of nursing
  • Learning about public policy and how to apply it to advanced nursing
  • Understanding health care dynamics

Doctoral Program

A doctorate isn't required in order to practice nurse midwifery, but if you're looking to advance further in your career, this degree may be appropriate.

With this level of education, nurse midwives can move into leadership type roles and work toward identifying problems and working toward solutions in the midwife profession.

According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), students entering a doctoral program will learn how to:

  • Interpret expert clinical information and research
  • Review women's health policy concerns and determine solutions
  • Develop and incorporate projects
  • Effectively communicate and lead
  • Determine the effectiveness of technology and information systems and use it for improving care

This type of degree is fairly new to the field and evidence doesn't exist yet to determine whether salaries are commensurate with education level, according to the ACNM.

What certification will I need?

Once you've earned a graduate degree from an accredited nurse-midwife program, you are eligible to take the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) exam. Passing this test allows you to practice as a certified nurse midwife.

The computer-based exam contains 175 multiple-choice questions and candidates are given a four-hour testing window.

What will I learn in my courses?

Core science and nursing topics will be taught in undergraduate programs. Once you enter the world of nurse-midwifery training, courses will become more advanced and usually include hands-on experiences in the form of a clinical practicum. Some schools might require a certain number of clinical hours in order to graduate. 

Certified nurse midwife courses include:

  • Professional issues in midwifery
  • Women's health topics
  • Care of newborns
  • Intrapartum and postpartum care
  • Advanced practice nursing

How long will it take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, a nursing degree can take the following time to complete:

  • Associate's degree programs, which provide entry-level opportunities, usually take two years
  • A bachelor’s degree program takes four years
  • A bachelor's degree with direct entry typically takes three years
  • Master's degree programs generally require two years 

Attending part-time is usually an option at most schools, but the program will take longer to complete.

Are online programs available?

Nurse midwifery is a very hands-on profession; however there are opportunities to receive your education online either partially or fully. With full-distance schools, students complete their studies online and conduct their clinical experiences within their local community. BSNs can be earned at a number of online schools with a general studies and nursing curriculum. If you're already an RN, online RN-to-MSN programs are also available.

Direct entry, second degree BSN and accelerated BSN programs are available online and can usually help people starting a new career in nursing get started quickly (one or two years). Students with a bachelor's degree in another field who want to enter nursing should have a high GPA and health care experience.

MSNs can be earned online and usually students will take on a joint degree, like nursing education or management.   

Depending on degree level, course work will include the following subjects:

  • Advanced physiology/pathology
  • Gynecology
  • Research methods
  • Introduction to statistics
  • General chemistry
  • Bioethics

How much will my education cost?

There are several avenues you can take to earn your advanced degree and this will affect the cost* of schooling.

For example, Frontier Nursing University offers the following midwife degree options and total program costs:

  • MSN: $32,320
  • MSN+DNP: $40,905
  • ADN-MSN: $42,925
  • ADN-MSN+DNP: $51,510

It's a good idea to consider your degree needs, the time you want to spend in school and the associated costs. A bridge program can sometimes be a quicker and cheaper alternative to earning your degrees separately.

*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees, books, room and board.

Are there prerequisites?

A graduate-level degree (Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is required to practice as a nurse midwife, but entry to a program is based on a few things.

  • Bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited nursing school
  • Active registered nurse (RN) license in the state where the school is located
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Up to a year of work experience in labor and delivery
  • A satisfactory score from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
  • A completed statistics course with satisfactory grade

The nurse midwife schools which cater to those with an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in another field have different prerequisites. With a two-year degree, students can enroll in an RN-to-MSN program without a bachelor's degree or without taking the GRE. Those holding a bachelor's degree in another field can apply to a "direct entry" program and won't need a nursing license.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Attending an accredited nursing school opens many doors for students. First, the accreditation is a gateway for students to study in federally-funded and state entitlement programs, like financial aid. Second, earning a degree at one accredited school allows a student to pursue further education at other accredited schools.

The main accreditation bodies are listed below. When searching for accredited schools, you don't have to dig too deep. AllNursingSchools.com indicates which institutions are NLNAC-accredited using an easy-to-see logo next to the school/program name.

A quick tip: Accreditation isn't earned and maintained in perpetuity. Accreditations are usually given for a certain amount of time and differ by school and program. It's a good idea to check with your potential schools about the length of time their program and institution is accredited.

Main Accreditation Bodies

  • The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN): Accredits the entire spectrum of nursing programs (associate's, diploma, bachelor's and master's)
  • The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM): Accredits midwifery education programs
  • The Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): This body accredits bachelor's and master's nursing programs
  • The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA): Nurse anesthesia certificate, master's and doctoral-level programs are accredited by this organization

There's another element students should consider when looking at schools. State boards of Nursing approve schools so they can prepare students for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). However, state board approval does not automatically equal school accreditation from one of the national organizations. While most accredited schools are state board-approved, it's always a good idea to check.

Non-accredited schools: If you're thinking of attending a non-accredited, but state board-approved school, there can be drawbacks. 

While you can still take the NCLEX, your nursing profession may stall out if you're seeking additional education. Generally, education from a non-accredited school doesn't qualify students to attend an accredited school. If you're thinking about a career in nurse midwifery where an MSN is necessary, attending a non-accredited undergraduate school can limit your options in the future.

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