STEMM PROFILE: Deborah Fox | PhD student | Midwifery, Child and Family health | University of Technology Sydney | Sydney | NSW

Deborah Fox - taken by Simon Peter Fox
Deborah Fox

“As a mid-life PhD Candidate, I am particularly motivated by the many older women around the world who are enjoying long careers as midwifery academics and clinicians”

Deborah Fox is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Midwifery, Child and Family Health at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Her research is attached to the Birthplace in Australia project, led by her primary supervisor, Professor Caroline Homer.

The Birthplace in Australia project is retrospectively examining, from routinely collected data, neonatal mortality and morbidity associated with births planned at home, in birth centres/stand-alone midwifery units and standard labour wards. Intervention rates, maternal morbidity and mortality, and intrapartum transfers will also be examined. The sample is expected to include approximately one million women. The study is the first of its kind in Australia and is funded by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grant. This is an important project for providing evidence on the safety of childbearing in different settings in Australia.

Recent evidence supports the safety of planned homebirth for low risk women when professional midwifery care and adequate collaborative arrangements for referral and transfer are in place. Much is known about rates of transfer, but little is known about the experiences of the women and caregivers involved. The aim of Deborah’s qualitative PhD study was to explore the views and experiences of women, midwives and obstetricians involved in the intrapartum transfer of women from planned homebirth to hospital in the Australian context. Thirty-six semi-structured interviews were conducted. A constructivist grounded theory approach was taken to enable exploration of the social interactions and processes that emerged. Deborah recently submitted her thesis for examination.

Deborah’s research focusses upon the ways in which collaboration between midwives and obstetricians may optimise normal labour and birth and quality of care for women who require medical referral. Her Master’s thesis explored enabling water birth and freedom of movement for women requiring continuous fetal monitoring. In 2015 she was a member of the Australian College of Midwives (ACM) Professional Practice Advisory Group which compiled the ‘Transfer from Planned Birth at Home Guidelines’ (ACM 2016). During five years working as a midwife and childbirth educator in Singapore, she collaborated with obstetric colleagues to establish Singapore’s first caseload midwifery model of care. In addition to academic commitments at UTS and La Trobe University, she currently works part time as a midwife and childbirth educator at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne.

Acknowledgement: Deborah’s PhD research was generously supported by scholarships from the UTS Faculty of Health/NHMRC Birthplace in Australia project (APP1022422), the Australian College of Midwives and the Nurses Memorial Centre.

How important are female role models to you?

Many role models in the profession of midwifery are female, which is an important source of inspiration for female post graduate and early career academics. As a mid-life PhD Candidate, I am particularly motivated by the many older women around the world who are enjoying long careers as midwifery academics and clinicians. I would like to emphasise also that much of my inspiration comes from the wonderful pregnant women and new mothers I have the privilege to work alongside.

Do you have any mentors in your field? Have they given you a special piece of advice or guidance you’d like to share?

I firmly believe in the power of mentorship. I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with some truly great midwives and obstetricians and thinkers who have been important mentors during my career, including Helen Sandner, my undergraduate midwifery mentor who has continued to support me; Professor Soo Downe who was my Masters’ supervisor in the UK; Associate Professor Chong Yap Seng, a wonderful obstetrician and academic with whom I worked in Singapore; and my PhD supervisor Professor Caroline Homer at UTS. I strive to mentor young midwives at every opportunity, even if informally, because I have been given so much by these inspiring individuals.

What advice have you been given that has best helped you grow as a scientist?

Take one small step at a time and don’t get overwhelmed! (Not always easy).

What has surprised you about yourself during the course of your studies?

I was surprised by how much I have learnt about myself during my postgraduate journey. The process of understanding and writing about my ontological and epistemological perspectives has been a huge process of personal growth since I started my Masters study in 2008. During my PhD, aligning these perspectives with grounded theory methodology and the reflexivity that is needed to produce a rigorous piece of qualitative research has been a most rewarding challenge.

If you could do it all over again, would you make the same choices?

Yes, but if I had my time again I would do it all much earlier. Prior to becoming a midwife I was a musician in a symphony orchestra, which was rewarding in many ways, but I wish I had followed my childhood aspirations to be a midwife much earlier in life.

[Image attribution: Simon Fox, Photographer]

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