Finding Your Professional Village

Do you have a professional village?

School teachers have the teacher’s lounge and department meetings. Office staff have the boardroom and water cooler. Athletes have the locker room and team meetings. But as perinatal professionals, we often work in isolation from our peers. Rarely do we have the opportunity to meet on the job or see our colleagues in action. But just like other professionals, we benefit from a regular exchange of ideas and support from our peers. We need to find our professional village.

Each of our professions—whether we are doulas, educators, or lactation counselors—are dynamic, with changing medical policy and practice, evidence-based research, and marketing technologies that impact our practice. We need to make sure we are connected to others in the field to share challenges, successes, and strategies. If we choose to stay disconnected from one another, we risk falling behind on education opportunities, becoming out of touch with our potential clients, and losing the support and insights of our colleagues.

Luckily we have many opportunities to learn from colleagues, if we develop and foster professional networks. So, where and how can we find our professional village?

Thanks to Facebook and other on-line forums, there are already numerous virtual groups where perinatal professionals can connect with other like-minded—and even better, sometimes not so like-minded—professionals. These forums, such as the CAPPA Connection group on Facebook, are an important resource for new professionals to gain information and learn from the experience of others. As a brand new doula, I relied on a local list service (before the days of Facebook) to get information on hospital policies so I could answer my clients’ questions even before I had attended a birth at that hospital. Seasoned birth and postpartum workers also benefit from on-line forums, where they can easily find lively debate on business practices, tips and tools, and changes in hospital technologies and policies. These on-line professional villages can be overwhelming with information, but when used in manageable quantities, they are a great resource, especially to those prenatal professionals working in remote areas where in person networking is a challenge.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a local or regional professional networking organization, it will be your best professional village. Meeting regularly with local colleagues—to exchange ideas, discuss changes in medical policies, or just socialize—will help keep you connected, informed, and supported. Also, having a face and personality to go with the name of your nearby colleagues will help you find trusted back-up or substitutes, allow you to have references to give out when you are booked, and give you confidence to process challenges and successes. The local quarterly doula gatherings I attend are enlightening and enjoyable as we get to reconnect and share new information we’ve gained since our last meeting.

Another great source of networking can come in the form of professional trainings and workshops. It is challenging to keep up with all the technological and policy changes in the medical field, but luckily we can stay in the loop through workshops on everything from research-based information on epidurals or treating sore nipples and everything in between. In addition to gaining tips, skills, resources, and CEUs at professional workshops and trainings, these educational gatherings also include time spent exchanging ideas and experiences that become invaluable in adding to our knowledge base. Important knowledge can also be gained from webinars and on-line seminars. (Check out CAPPA’s on-line courses and don’t forget about the annual conference!)

Participating in regular peer review groups can provide an additional boost to your professional knowledge and help promote our professional status. By hearing the experience of our peers, whether positive or negative, we expand our knowledge on everything from current medical practices to effective communication skills. Peer review is a requirement for OBs and hospital-based midwives if their hospital wants to keep its accreditation. Home-based midwives may be required to participate depending on her licensure. Non-clinical birth and postpartum professionals usually have no peer review requirements, so many of us don’t seek out or participate in peer review. But, the lack of a requirement doesn’t diminish the need or benefit of peer reviews.

Peer review is often used as a punitive measure when a conflict or negative outcome occurs. But we don’t need to wait for something to go “wrong” to share our professional experiences with our colleagues. By bringing a case to peer review, you open yourself to constructive criticism by your colleagues, and therefore growth. And your colleagues gain knowledge and skills from your experience. Regular participation in local peer review also helps highlight our collective professionalism to our clients and medical colleagues.

Because perinatal professionals don’t have the benefit of sharing ideas around an office cooler or boardroom, we need to reach out and create our own professional village. Continued education and growth are essential to the success of our individual businesses and our profession as a whole.

It’s time to find your professional village!

Megan Bunch

CLD, CCCE, Labor Doula Faculty

Megan has had the pleasure of supporting expectant families through the joys and challenges of labor, delivery, and early parenting for more than a decade. She first entered the birth world by becoming a certified birth doula in 2001. She soon expanded her training and services to include prenatal yoga and, after the birth of her first child in 2003, she became a certified childbirth educator through CAPPA. In addition to her doula work and classes, Megan also trains new labor doulas as a member of the CAPPA faculty. Megan lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and two kids.

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