UCSF shifts to doctorate midwifery program amid criticism

The University of California San Francisco is ending its master's program for nurse midwives and moving to a doctorate program — and critics say it could make it harder for new midwives to enter the field, the San Francisco Chronicle reported June 23.

UCSF said the change parallels what other nursing schools have been doing the last two decades as a doctorate-level education is the standard in many nursing specialties.

"Moving the nurse-midwifery specialty to a (Doctor of Nursing Practice degree) will enable us to better prepare nurse leaders to serve the increasingly complex needs of maternal health," UCSF said in a statement shared with the Chronicle

In the change, students entering the doctorate program must have a bachelor's of science in nursing and a nursing license. They can complete the program in three years and will receive additional education in health policy and leadership. The doctorate program anticipated having a cohort of 10 to 15 people, the same size as the master's program. 

However, UCSF master's program alumni and clinicians who provided training have asked the school to reinstate its master's option. Critics of the shift are raising concerns over losing faculty members who taught in the master's program, greater costs in tuition and other hurdles that can delay some from entering the field. To teach doctorate classes, faculty will need to have a doctorate themselves. 

The school said it has been working with faculty to obtain doctorates, including offering a faculty doctorate cohort. The school has not commented on the cost difference that could come with the doctorate program but estimates suggest tuition and fees could nearly double from $149,000 for the master's to an estimated $274,000.

Admissions to the doctorate program are temporarily paused "while we ensure faculty in the specialty have a doctoral degree to meet the national standard for teaching doctoral students," UCSF told the Chronicle. "We fully intend to resume admissions in the near future, which could be as early as September 2024, for a class to enter in June 2025."

The majority of nurse midwives practice in hospitals. The university's midwifery master's program was founded in 1988 and is one of the oldest in the country. 

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