Dr Kathryn Gutteridge is one of the first consultant midwives in the UK. On accepting her award of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) at City’s Winter Graduation, she shared her journey and advice with graduates from the School of Health & Psychological Sciences.

By Mr Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer), Published

Dr Kathryn Gutteridge is currently a freelance consultant midwife, being one of the first consultant midwives in the UK and is a practicing psychotherapist with a longstanding interest in the emotional impact of childbirth.

President of the Royal College of Midwives from 2017 to 2021, Dr Gutteridge is a pioneer of Birth Centres in the UK. She was project lead for the development of the ground-breaking Serenity Birth Centre, which opened on International Day of the Midwife in 2010, and the Halcyon Birth Centre which opened shortly thereafter in the Autumn of 2011. Her role included the clinical development of guidance, training of midwives and quality improvements throughout maternity care.

At City’s Winter Graduation, Dr Gutteridge received the award of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) in recognition of her outstanding contribution to transformational leadership in midwifery.  On accepting her award, she delivered an incisive, yet heart-warming speech to the graduates from the School of Health & Psychological Sciences in attendance at the ceremony.

Acknowledging the current state of the NHS that the graduates could be entering into, and providing an extra nod to midwifery graduates, she said:

I know at the moment the National Health Service and those who work in it are facing challenges and increased demands that may feel overwhelming.  I would say to those of you who are about to join as a newly qualified clinician thank you.  Thank you for choosing to join the NHS in whatever role you have selected.  I would like to specifically say thank you to those of you who are newly qualified midwives.  You are about to become me, as I was once like you, about to take a leap of faith in joining this honourable profession to be with women during the most important journey of their lives.  You can be so many things to her and I suspect you may be feeling inadequate, a little frightened and maybe a little excited.  I was all those things at some time in my journey.  I knew however that I could use all of the things that midwives know to bring her some comfort, to hold her when she is in labour and to look in wonder as she holds her newly birthed baby in her aching arms.  That is midwifery.

She also reflected on her varied career to date, which started in 1974, at a time when direct entry midwifery roles did not exist. Wanting to become a midwife since she was a child, she instead trained to the level of State Registered Nurse, doing work that she loved, and that ultimately enabled her to train as a midwife. Once qualified, she spent seven years working in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where she was able to learn and support families whose babies required skilled care. This experience was vital when she moved on to became a community midwife.

Dr Kathryn Gutteridge walking across stage to deliver her speech
Dr Kathryn Gutteridge taking to podium to deliver her speech at the School of Health

Reflecting on how she eventually became one of the UK’s first consultant midwives, Dr Gutteridge said:

You have heard that I was one of the first Consultant Midwives in the UK and this exciting new role meant that I worked much closer with midwives and obstetricians but also with policy makers and service provision.  It was not necessarily an accepted role in the early days as many were challenged by the title and how it would work.  However, they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Tall poppies were what other consultant midwives and myself identified with but we knew we could be impactful given time and support.

She shared how she remained as a consultant midwife for 16 years working in different organisations, but always remained clinically focussed, wanting to continue working directly with women and midwives.

In 2007, Dr Gutteridge registered her PhD on the subject of fear in birth at Bournemouth University, having developed an interest in the topic in the late 1980s, and begun researching the phenomena in 1995.

She ended her speech with a moving reflection on how her daughter and sister, who each passed away unexpectedly and suddenly in recent years, would be proud to see her at the ceremony. She added:

My sister a headteacher of a primary school was a great advocate for children and she had a wonderful mantra in the entrance of her school; Reach for Your Stars.  So I will end by encouraging all of you at the start of your career to do just that, reach for your stars; never be afraid to stand up for what is right and remember to serve women at all times.  You will then have given the very best and be remembered by the women and their families as a good memory in their lives.