Delivering new life with a balanced perspective and supportive experiences through a maternity care program

Dr Sarah Olson nurtured a passion for the birth and delivery process even before she became a mother herself. Her love of obstetrics is evident as she discusses her practice while rocking her own five-month old baby to sleep—she’s just returned to work after a short maternity leave.

“I love the excitement of delivery,” shares Dr Olson. “Just being a part of usually wonderful moments is really exciting and compelling.”

Dr Olson’s interest in obstetrics was inspired by her family doctor preceptor during her time in the St Paul’s residency program. Although she graduated in 2012 with plenty of hands-on delivery experience, Dr Olson reveals that she didn’t initially feel confident in leading maternity care for her patients.

“I wasn't feeling ready. Usually things go well, but things can also become intense very quickly,” says Dr Olson.

Looking for an opportunity to gain more hands-on experience and to feel more comfortable with deliveries, Dr Olson decided to participate in the GPSC’s Maternity Care for BC (MC4BC) program. MC4BC supports and trains BC family physicians to reconnect with low-risk maternity services through mentorship, hands-on experience, and financial support.

“MC4BC was good that way,” says Dr Olson of her experience being mentored through the program. “I was in charge of the delivery, and I would essentially just call for backup really just to be there as needed.”

After completing about 30 supervised deliveries through MC4BC while also participating in deliveries at the community-based South Community Birth Program, Dr Olson felt confident in opening her own practice –the South Hill Family Health Clinic. She decided to practice in Vancouver, so she could provide care to some of the many unattached moms and babies who were transitioning out of the birth program. Some of the most meaningful components of family medicine for Dr Olson include building relationships and providing continuity of care. She builds these components into her practice by offering a mixture of prenatal care, deliveries, postpartum care, and general family practice.

“Knowing a doctor over years and through many life events—I mean delivery—of course can be therapeutic and can strengthen that patient-provider relationship,” says Dr Olson. “Then, I think you’re really able to provide better care, and patients are able to more strongly connect with their care provider.”

Dr Olson credits her confidence in providing maternity care in part, to both the formal mentorship she received through the MC4BC program and the informal mentorship she received through the South Community Birthing Program.

“Transitioning to obstetrics practice can be intimidating,” admits Dr Olson. “Having a colleague to help support you is valuable.”

Operational support is another important component of the mentoring process. Participants have opportunities to make connections within hospitals, renew privileges, gain an understanding of department policies and expectations, and to connect with colleagues to talk about difficult situations or deliveries.

Mentorship learnings can be practical and can sometimes come from other interdisciplinary care providers working in the mentoring environment.

“When there's an umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's head, in medical school we would try to remove the cord by clamping and cutting it,” says Dr Olson. During mentorship, she says, “I learned a technique where I just essentially somersault the baby out. It sounds tricky but it's actually very easy and kind of fun. So you end up not having to cut the cord early.” While the technique she describes is commonly performed by doctors in obstetrical practice, Dr Olson happened to learn it from a midwife in her group practice. Learning opportunities like these underscore the value of strong relationships between physicians and other allied health practitioners.

“I feel it’s valuable to have exposure that you don't get in typical training and it better informs me, as a doctor, how to speak with patients about their choices. Patient care is improved when networks among physicians are strengthened.”

Dr Olson’s baby stirs, letting us know that nap time is over, and cueing us to wind down our conversation. As she leans over to cuddle her waking son, Dr Olson intones some final words of advice for MC4BC participants. She recommends that participants spread their required deliveries over time, and opt to work with a mentor. In addition, because MC4BC is a self-directed program that offers flexibility, Dr Olson suggests that participants start in a secondary role and gradually build up to being in a primary role as they feel comfortable.

“It gives you time to integrate your experiences, to read around them, and to do learning,” enthuses Dr Olson. “I can't think of any downsides, I don't know why you wouldn't do it.”

To participate in MC4BC, email the program administrator.