Hannah Gerken is a Ark Helenswood (now Ark Alexandra) and East Sussex Sixth Form alumna. She left school in 2016 and was the first in her family to attend university, choosing to study midwifery. She now works for the NHS and has her own business delivering antenatal classes in the community.

Tell us a little about what you’re doing now.

I have just started work as a midwife in my local hospital, having finished university in September. I am loving the buzz of a busy environment, supporting families throughout their pregnancies and to give birth to their babies. I am also running my own business, which I have been doing for the past 2 years. I teach antenatal classes (pregnancy education) to families in the local area, helping them to have a calmer pregnancy and birth and ensure they have the knowledge they need when giving birth. It is so important for them to feel confident at this time, to prevent birth trauma and mental health conditions after birth. I love the independence that I have being self-employed, but still having the financial security of working within a brilliant organisation that is the NHS.

What made you pursue this career? How did your school prepare you for what you’re doing now?

I have always known that I wanted to work in healthcare and originally thought I would like to be a nurse. I was encouraged to and felt motivated to undertake volunteering whilst at school, so spent 2 years providing massages and nail care to patients in the hospital. As much as I loved it, I soon realized that nursing wasn’t for me and instead explored midwifery. I then worked at a mental health charity for pregnant women whilst at sixth form and knew that this was an area I wanted to pursue. It was all down to the incredible staff at sixth form who supported me to apply for midwifery, as they knew how challenging it was to get accepted on to the course. Taking the right GCSEs and A Levels also really helped get to where I needed to be.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve encountered in your career so far?

I have seen how privileged I really am and how you never really know what people are going through. Midwifery isn’t all about ‘delivering’ babies and happy times. There are some really difficult experiences too. Whether that is working with deprived families, supporting people through loss, or having meetings with social services, I never realized how lucky I am to have had a good education, financially secure upbringing and a roof over my head. It really makes you appreciate coming home to your loved ones.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far in your career?

The entire job is one massive challenge. As I mentioned, it is far from what you would imagine midwifery to be. The immense amount of complications that occur and have to be managed, staffing issues, long hours. However, having a few medical conditions myself, that has to be the most difficult part. Managing my own health, whilst working a pressurized job is challenging. I have needed a lot of resilience and knowing when enough is enough and I need to stop. Luckily, everyone has been very understanding and I am able to work slightly less than full time hours. That has also meant I can continue running my business alongside.

What tips would you give a new student or recent graduate studying midwifery?

My biggest tip to a new student would be, ask questions and don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. A lot can be expected of you as a student midwife, but no one will shame you if you say no. They would rather you do that, than attempt a procedure, for example, and not know what you are doing. I remember I was often frightened that I wouldn’t know something and it would look bad on me, but the majority of my mentors were brilliant at explaining things and there is always support if you need it.

Where would you like to be in 5 years time?

I would like to be working as a community midwife. I love the hospital work, but being in the community would help to get a better work-life balance. That involves visiting peoples houses, running clinics in doctors surgeries and attending home births. I’d love to also continue running a thriving business, maybe have a child myself and feel happy with my work and life in general.