What makes a good midwife? An integrative review of methodologically-diverse research


  • Lynn Nicholls BA MSc RN RM,

  • Christine Webb PhD RN FRCN

Lynn Nicholls,
Faculty of Health and Social Work,
University of Plymouth,
Wellington Road,
Somerset TA1 5YD,
E-mail: l.c.nicholls@plymouth.ac.uk


Aim.  This paper reports an integrative review aimed at answering the question: ‘What makes a good midwife?’

Background.  A research-based definition of a good midwife which can be used as an operational definition in research and as a basis for curriculum development could not be found. Research in nursing has identified that patients and nurses may give different responses when asked about the most important aspects of nurses’ contribution to care. It is also possible that views of how to define a good midwife might differ.

Methods.  A four-stage systematic review process was used, consisting of protocol development, carrying out the search, appraisal/analysis of the papers retrieved, and synthesis of the information. The initial search covered the period from 1993 and used the keywords ‘midwi*’, ‘nurse-midwi*’ and ‘good’. This was later extended to include the terms ‘exemplary’, ‘excellent’ and ‘superb’ as synonyms of ‘good’, and ‘bad’ as its antonym. The integrative review was descriptive and focussed on extracting from the papers the findings that contributed to answering the research question.

Findings.  Thirty-three research-based papers were included in the review, and these had used a range of approaches and methods. Eight key concepts were derived from the data: attributes of a midwife, education, research, what a midwife does, care organization, other professionals, partners and an international perspective.

Conclusion.  Having good communication skills made the greatest contribution to being ‘a good midwife’, while being compassionate, kind, supportive (affective domain), knowledgeable (cognitive domain) and skilful (psychomotor domain) also made major contributions. Being involved in education and research were necessary requirements, and midwives’ abilities to treat women as individuals, adopt a caring approach, and ‘be there’ for women were essential. A good midwife can compensate for poor management systems, but women should be able to choose who provides their care, and partners should be involved in this care.