The legacy of gendered professionalization, the racial hierarchy of apartheid, and profound health care policy changes in the post-apartheid era, facilitated a specific scrutiny of maternity nurses working in the public sector in independent Midwife Obstetric Units in South Africa. Within scholarship on the quality of maternity care in South Africa, the professional identity of nurses is used to explain issues of rudeness and abuse faced by patients (Jewkes, Abrahams & Mvo, 1998). However, the perspective of nurses themselves on their experience of identity and how it shapes their work is notably absent. It is the aim of this paper to connect the social forces that have shaped the nursing profession and its narratives to original data about nurses’ experience of profession and identity. I will argue that three factors – the valuation of autonomy as a practitioner, a close connection to community, and intentional distancing from the private obstetric standards of care – provide an alternate narrative of how professional identity is experienced by nurses working in primary, public maternity care as a factor that promotes rather than denigrates quality care.
Mary Lindsay Cerulli
Penn Humanities Forum Undergraduate Fellow
2016—2017 Forum on Translation
Mary Lindsay Cerulli
Health and Societies
Go Ask the Midwife: Understanding Midwives as Practical Policy Translators in South Africa’s Urban Maternal Health Landscape
In this study, ML will use interview data to research how midwives experience their role as providers in public health clinics in Cape Town, South Africa. In 1996 South Africa explicitly prioritized maternal health in its constitution and, through efforts to bring care to areas previously excluded from apartheid infrastructure, established midwives as the primary providers for women in low-income urban areas (AIDS Law Group 2007, Pillay 2001). However, South Africa still has poor maternal health outcomes, despite free care and high utilization rates (Republic of South Africa Country Report 2013). Using a medical humanities approach, this study seeks to add to the scant literature that acknowledges midwives as the health system actors responsible for translating governmental promises of reproductive health into health realities for low-income women.