For Mel Boulter, midwifery isn’t just a job, it’s a calling.
And that passion for helping women and their families has earned her a nomination as Midwife of the Year in the 2021 HESTA Australian Nursing and Midwifery Awards.
“I kind of knew I was going to be nominated, but I hadn’t thought to be a finalist – it’s such a vast country and there are so many midwives, I’m a bit of a small fish in a big pond,” Mel said.
“It’s an amazing honour, we all love our job and to be recognised is amazing.”
Mel has been a midwife for 23 years, qualifying in England in 1998. She has been a midwife here in Australia for 20 years, with 15 of those spent at John Flynn Private Hospital on the Gold Coast.
“The team at John Flynn are just amazing, we have such a low staff turnover because none of us ever want to leave!” Mel said.
“Some of the midwives have been there for 25 years, which was when the hospital was founded. We have new midwives coming through in the graduate program. We’re just a solid bunch here and I think that shows in the work that we do.
“We have the most amazing manager, she just cares about us all, and you want to do your best for her. And everyone, right up to the director of clinical services, the support for our team is incredible.”
Mel said she loved midwifery because it allowed her to support women.
“I mainly love that relationship you build with the families, just being there for women at their most vulnerable,” she said.
“It can be scary, they’re going into the unknown, they might feel lost – to be able to be there and give the mother some control back, that’s something special.”
When initially qualifying as a midwife, Mel said she had to deliver 100 babies – and she estimated she had now helped bring about 200 babies into the world.
“I have seen families come back for their second and third babies, which is lovely,” she said.
“The ones that really stick with me, are the ones who have lost a baby previously, for whatever reason, and they come back for that ‘rainbow baby’.
“They’re nervous and scared, but to celebrate that new start and new life with those families is very special.”
Of course, midwifery is not always a joyful profession, and learning to deal with loss when things do not go according to plan is part of the job.
“No matter how many years you’ve been in this job, it does still hurt, we are human,” Mel said.
“We do feel it as well, and it’s important to show that – we cry with the families and to still have contact with those families, and to talk about that baby.
“Our role is support them. And for me, that’s where my colleagues come in, they can see if you’re having a rough time and they know and understand.”
Teaching the next generation of midwives is also a vital part of Mel’s role at John Flynn Private Hospital.
“I love teaching – it can be challenging, focusing on what I’m doing and then explaining what I’m doing, but we get students from Griffith and Southern Cross universities usually in their second or third year and to see them finding their feet is wonderful,” she said.
“The joy on their faces when they master something is great.”
Mel has also continued learning, recently completing her 'endorsement' which means she can prescribe medication and order tests.
“It meant going back to uni and I thought, ‘Oh my God, do I really want to do this?’ but I just loved it and I think it sparked something back up inside of me,” she said.
“I feel now that I’m not done studying. I’m a lactation consultant as well, and I have to resit that exam every five years.”
Mel helped create the 'Know My Midwife' program that has been rolled out at other Ramsay Health Care Australia hospitals.
“It’s a collaboration with the obstetricians, so the mothers come in and see us in between obstetrician visits and it’s mostly education-based,” she said.
“We tell them about their choices and then of course when they come in on the day, they’re familiar with us, they know some of us, and if we’re on duty we can be there when they have their baby.
“Afterwards, they can come and see us for six weeks with their new baby and we can help care for them.”
A mother of two boys, now aged 18 and 16, Mel said she knew the care on offer at John Flynn first-hand, giving birth to both her sons at the hospital.
“I was cared for by people I work with and I feel really privileged that I could handpick who I wanted with me! I just felt it was the safest place to be and I knew they would all take good care of me,” she said.
“You know, midwifery is very different to other types of nursing. I always knew I wanted to work with women and I hope that other women – and men – currently studying nursing would think about it as a career.
“It’s a heart thing, it’s a real calling. And those that are going through with their studies now, I hope they’re getting those vibes.”
Mel added that while she was thrilled to be nominated for the award, it felt “a bit unfair” to be singled out.
“This nomination is really all about my colleagues, it’s for them as well,” she said.
The winners of the HESTA Australian Nursing and Midwifery Awards will announced on Thursday 6 May 2021.