Generation next

Jessica Wood’s passion for midwifery is transformed into teaching through innovations in technology.

Jessica Wood

When Jessica finished year 12, she knew she was interested in health, and enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing. However, in her final year of study, she underwent two maternity placements and found her real love – midwifery. “When I started off in nursing, there wasn’t a direct-entry midwifery course on offer,” Jessica explains. “I thought nursing would be broad and diverse, so I went into that. But after experiencing midwifery, I realised that’s what I wanted to do.”

Immediately after graduating from nursing, Jessica did her Graduate Diploma in Midwifery and worked as a midwife for a few years before having kids of her own. However, the demands of parenting young children and shiftwork didn’t mesh, so Jessica looked for a career that kept her in midwifery, without the challenges of shiftwork.

“I realised that my passion was education,” Jessica explains. “One of the things I most loved about midwifery was working in the postnatal setting and educating women about how to care for their babies. So, I started looking into options for education and midwifery and decided to commence a Masters in Midwifery in 2012.”

Graduating with Distinction, Jessica began work as a sessional midwifery academic at UON in 2013, working part-time and doing part-time clinical work. When she started full-time work at UON in 2017, Jessica commenced her PhD, which she submitted in late 2020.

Innovation in approach

The School of Nursing and Midwifery at UON has a history of innovation in teaching and education methods. At the end of 2016 the newly created IT Innovation team offered an opportunity for academics to work with them to develop VR apps relevant to their discipline, so Jessica took this opportunity to use an app in her PhD. “I’m all about working out what methods of education work best,” Jessica says. “I’m Gen Y so I’ve grown up with technology all my life. If this technique had to be examined by someone it might as well be me!”

Jessica’s PhD is tied to one of her passions: the use of technology and tools such as virtual reality and simulation to educate and train midwifery students so that they can deal with unexpected and stressful situations that often occur during childbirth. “Neonatal resuscitation is a common situation that many midwives face, and it’s very stressful for everyone involved,” says Jessica. “We wanted to see if having access to an extra mode of teaching through virtual reality made students more confident and less stressed in this situation if they’d rehearsed their response using virtual reality.”

Working with 2nd year Bachelor of Midwifery students, some were randomly assigned to have access to a portable VR headset to access additional training on neonatal resuscitation.

While the VR intervention did not have a significant impact on student confidence or stress levels when compared to students who did not have access to this intervention, Jessica feels there’s merit is using this as a tool for students who choose it in future, particularly as current teaching practices are moving more into the online and virtual space.

Jessica is now working with another app that is currently being used as a teaching tool within the Bachelor of Midwifery. “It’s called Road to Birth and it’s basically a pregnancy physiology and anatomy tool that shows the changes that happen throughout pregnancy,” Jessica explains. “It’s interactive and three-dimensional, allowing students to adjust things like the gestation of the woman’s pregnancy and the position of the baby or placenta, and examine these elements from different angles. In the classroom environment, we can then discuss how these changes might impact on the woman and baby during birth. Now that I’ve finished my PhD I’d like to gather some data on how an interactive app like Road to Birth can be best used to enhance the learning experience for students and help them better learn important childbirth considerations at their own pace.”

A love of teaching

“Teaching is my favourite part of my job,” Jessica admits. “It’s the whole reason why I’m here. I just love helping students learn. Just being able to talk about all things midwifery and offer up pathways for support so every student can achieve their goal of becoming a midwife – that’s what brings me joy.”

“I think my career will always look at student experience and satisfaction, maximising their learning and helping to produce work-ready graduates.”

Educating a confident cohort of midwives is quite the challenge, as Jessica explored in her PhD. “It’s tricky because confidence is really subjective and there’s a lot of things that can influence how confident people feel,” Jessica says. “And people might gauge it differently at different times: for example, just before or just after they’ve completed a task.”

“If we want to help students feel confident, we need to provide them with plenty of opportunities to practice and make the simulations (whether they’re VR simulation or hands-on simulation) as realistic and close to the real-world as possible. This will help students to build confidence in their clinical skills and translate their competence in these skills to the clinical environment.”

The cohort of midwifery students is very different to others, even nursing. “They tend to be mature age, many have other degrees, and many have children of their own,” Jessica says. “The students who come through this degree have a passion for midwifery and a desire to work alongside women and babies; it’s a very competitive degree.”

“The really unique thing about midwifery is that we’re providing care for two people the whole time,” Jessica says. “It’s very special in that sense, we’re playing a role in the health and quality of life for both the women and their babies.”

“It is this reason why I love being involved in the education of our next generation of midwives. It is my aim to educate our midwifery students so that they can go forth and be good educators to the women they care for in practice, talking to women about ways to make their pregnancy as optimal as possible,” Jessica explains. “It’s women who determine the population of the world. When you get women as healthy as possible, you get a healthier population.”

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.