Midwife assisting a pregnant woman

How to Become a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Midwife assisting a pregnant woman

Any healthcare professional who works with pregnant mothers will tell you that childbirth truly is a miraculous event. Witnessing those first tender moments between parents and newborns is one of the most unique and rewarding experiences of any job in the medical industry. If you love the thought of being a part of one of the most important moments in many people’s lives, a career as a nurse midwife could be the best nursing specialty for you!

Nurse midwives have a great deal of independence and can even start their own practice with sufficient experience. Becoming a nurse midwife not only gives you the chance to guide expecting mothers throughout their journey from pregnancy to motherhood, it’s also a fantastic way to earn a living. In fact, we recently featured nurse midwives on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a certified nurse midwife (CNM), including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a certified nurse midwife is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying nursing jobs.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Definition

What is a Certified Nurse Midwife?

Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) are advanced-practice registered nurses (APRNs) with high-level medical training related specifically to pregnancy, childbirth, and overall women’s health. They provide expecting mothers with wide-ranging, holistic care designed to promote overall well-being throughout the pregnancy term and beyond.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): Job Description

What Does a Certified Nurse Midwife Do?

Nurse midwives are trained to serve as an expecting mother’s primary healthcare provider throughout her entire pregnancy term. CNMs often help treat fertility issues, monitor a baby’s development, and educate parents-to-be on what to expect and how to best care for their newborn. Nurse midwives also frequently deliver babies in both hospital and home-care settings and may even serve as the top surgical assistant for an OB/GYN physician during a Caesarian section birth. Like other advanced-practice nurses, nurse midwives frequently operate with a high degree of autonomy, and can perform certain functions traditionally reserved for physicians, like prescribing medication.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of certified nurse midwives (CNMs) include:

  • Helping women with family planning and fertility concerns
  • Educating pregnant mothers and families on health habits and nutrition
  • Monitoring development of fetuses throughout pregnancy
  • Screening mothers-to-be for high-risk behaviors or unsafe living situations
  • Delivering newborns, and managing issues that may arise during labor
  • Educating mothers and families on postpartum and newborn care
  • Monitoring and assessing the health of newborns up to one month old

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Skills

The best nurse midwives are great listeners and communicators who take the time to build caring, trusting relationships with the women they treat. CNMs must also be quick thinkers who can stay cool under pressure, as certain complications during childbirth can be serious and must be addressed quickly or referred to a physician. Like any nursing career, working as a nurse midwife requires a high degree of emotional resilience, as the mothers under your care will occasionally experience heartbreaking situations like miscarriage or stillbirth. However, many nurse midwives find the abundance of heartwarming moments is more than enough to outweigh the difficult days.

Hospital midwife with new mother and baby

Where Do Nurse Midwives Work?

Nurse midwives usually work in hospital maternity wards or OB/GYN clinics. Certified nurse midwives are also a common choice for people who prefer to have more natural childbirths in the privacy of their own homes. Most CNMs work full-time hours, and scheduled shifts or on-call periods may be required during nights, weekends, or holidays. After all, babies tend to show up whenever they feel like it!

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Midwife?

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Nurse Midwife?

Like any of the other top-paying nursing specialties, becoming a certified nurse midwife requires a long-term commitment to completing your education and building the necessary nursing experience. Your nurse midwife education will start with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, earning a BSN requires a full four years in school, but thanks to accelerated degree programs, you could finish your nursing degree in as little as 32 months! Before you can get certified to practice independently, all advanced practice registered nurses (including nurse midwives) will also need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a nurse midwife is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a certified nurse midwife (CNM):

1. Enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

Step one in your nurse midwife education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program with an accredited college or university. Nursing school can be challenging and requires both effort and discipline to earn your degree, but a career in nursing is achievable by nearly anyone who’s willing to work hard. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all it takes is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

BSN sign on a stack of books with a stethoscope

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Like any of the other highest-paid nursing jobs, becoming a nurse midwife requires earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN program will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not be directly related to nursing or medicine, they’re still an essential part of your nurse midwife education. Becoming a better listener, communicator, and critical thinker will help you build trusting long-term relationships with your patients.

As expected, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Some of your classes will cover how to assess and treat patients of all ages, including the pregnant women and newborns you’ll be working with as a nurse midwife. Other courses will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measurement used in the medical field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics, which will come into play while screening pregnant women for high-risk habits or unsafe living environments. Finally, expect to take classes focused on improving your overall clinical competence and evidence-based decision-making. As a CNM, you’ll often be working with limited supervision, so your ability to think and act quickly will be vital to the women and babies under your care.

In tandem with your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. These courses are particularly useful to nurse midwives, who must have a well-rounded knowledge of the human body to properly monitor both in-utero development and the overall wellness of expecting mothers.

The last step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience with real patients in a hospital or clinic. While your nursing program will include plenty of simulated training scenarios, there’s no substitute for experiencing the emotions you’ll feel in situations where your actions directly influence patient outcomes. Since nurse midwives are advanced-practice nurses who operate independently with little supervision, you’ll need to be fully confident in your clinical skills and decision-making, which can only come from time spent treating real patients.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools and one that’s committed to supporting their students as they transition from finishing school to starting their new career. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even walked the stage at graduation!

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Before you can become a nurse midwife, you’ll need to get licensed as a registered nurse, which requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The maximum number of questions on the NCLEX is around 265, however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you’re getting all the right answers! You’ll have a total of six hours to complete the exam, with two optional breaks scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. Practice NCLEX exams are widely available, and many people find them to be extremely helpful, as they’ll give you an advanced look at the test format and reveal any areas you may need to review.

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

After you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which gives you the flexibility to take your nursing skills just about anywhere! Any RN experience will be valuable, but if you’re pursuing a career as a nurse midwife, you’ll likely want to seek employment in a maternity ward or OB/GYN clinic. The more relevant experience you have working with pregnant mothers and newborns, the more attractive you’ll be to potential employers when starting your career as a CNM.

Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs (like an MSN program, for example), you should have no issues keeping your nursing license current.

Beautiful nurse typing on a laptop

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

Like other advanced-practice nurses that operate with lots of autonomy, certified nurse midwives must complete a postgraduate nursing degree, almost always a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Many colleges and universities offer MSN programs focused specifically on midwifery, which will build upon both your BSN studies and your clinical experience as a registered nurse. These advanced-level courses will prepare you to serve as the primary healthcare provider for expecting mothers throughout the course of their pregnancy.

Midwifery MSN programs are available at nursing schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though it’s possible to finish some accelerated programs as quickly as 18 months.

6. Become a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

After completing your MSN program in midwifery, you’ll be qualified to take a certification exam from the American Midwifery Certification Board, consisting of 175 multiple-choice questions over a four-hour time window. Once you’ve passed the exam, you’ll be able to get licensed by the state of your choice and begin practicing as a certified nurse midwife (CNM). You’ll need to renew your CNM certification with the AMCB every five years.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Salary

How Much Do Nurse Midwives Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), certified nurse midwives across the country bring home an average salary* over $115,000 per year. That works out to over $55 per hour, assuming 40-hour workweeks. Nurse midwife salaries among the top 10% of earners can reach $179,000 per year or more.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Job Outlook

What Is the Job Outlook for Nurse Midwives?

Many women prefer to work with nurse midwives as their primary healthcare provider throughout their pregnancy term, as the personalized attention and overall knowledge provided by CNMs is often second to none. The BLS projects the overall employment of nurse midwives will increase 11% by 2030, which is significantly higher than the much more modest 4% average growth rate for all other careers. That means a career as a certified nurse midwife not only offers the chance to earn one of the highest salaries among all nursing specialties, it also comes with excellent long-term stability.

Smiling nurse with a stethoscope and clipboard

Ready to Start Your Career as a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)?

If you’re enthralled by the idea of accompanying mothers on arguably the most important journey of their lives, becoming a nurse midwife could be the best nursing specialty for you. The feeling you’ll get when seeing a new mother lock eyes with her child for the first time is something that never loses its luster, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one of the highest-paying nursing careers, either!

Ready to start your journey toward a rewarding and well-paying career as a nurse midwife? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and start taking steps toward your new career in nursing today!