A much loved midwife from Newcastle has been posthumously awarded the Chief Midwifery Officer for England’s Gold Medal.
Jennifer McDermott, whose distinguished career in the NHS spanned over 55 years, was commemorated with the Gold Medal in recognition of her exceptional contribution to her profession, and for being a truly inspirational role model, having mentored dozens of midwives, some of whom have gone to become senior leaders in midwifery themselves.
Jennifer died nearly two years ago not long after retiring at the age of 73, and following a short illness having been diagnosed with cancer.
Described as a consummate professional, Jennifer was a staunch advocate for women all over the world, a confidant to colleagues and a hugely respected member of the maternity team for many years in Newcastle.
The poignant nomination made by one of her colleagues says: “Jennifer was a strident, forthright midwife. Prior to retiring in 2017 after 55 years of service at the age of 73, she was at one point the oldest serving Supervisor of Midwives, and the oldest registered practicing midwife in England.
“Jennifer was dedicated to midwifery all her life and we cannot put into words how much she meant to us all.”
After retiring, Jennifer began a Master’s Degree in philosophy, but was subsequently diagnosed with cancer and sadly died in March 2020.
“The CMO Awards celebrate midwives who go above and beyond their everyday roles to provide excellent care, leadership and inspiration to their colleagues and patients,” said Jane Anderson, Associate Director for Midwifery at Newcastle Hospitals.
“I know from speaking to colleagues who knew her well, and reading her wonderful nomination, that she absolutely deserves this Gold Medal without reservation. Jennifer was clearly an inspiration to all who met and worked with her, and I am delighted that her dedication and enduring influence on how we provide outstanding care for our mums and babies here in Newcastle today is being recognised in this way.”
England’s Chief Midwifery Officer, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, gave the posthumous award to Jennifer’s daughter, Terry, during an emotional presentation.
She said: “This amazing citation brought tears to my eyes when I read it and I don’t want to take anything away from that or the sacrifices that Jennifer made.
“You know when you get that call to become a midwife that your 12 hour shifts can extend into 17 hour ones when someone is birthing. You do give yourself so much to the role and I’m sure Jennifer did too. This gold award is for lifetime achievement above and beyond the call of duty and it is a first. I’d like to thank Terry and the family for ‘loaning’ Jennifer to maternity and midwifery over many years and I’m honoured to make this presentation.”
Jennifer’s medal will now take pride of place next to her silver nursing buckle in Terry’s home.
Matron Paula Taylor added: “Jennifer had a wisdom that came from years of experience and practice, she was one of a kind an exceptional woman and an exceptional midwife. A midwifery era ended when Jennifer retired, she was the last of her generation of midwives.”
Jennifer’s nursing training began in 1962, when she quickly found that she excelled in midwifery and qualified in 1968.
After working for a time in England she travelled to South Africa where she cared for women no matter how or where they came from in a world dominated by apartheid and class division, and often said childbirth was great leveller – that all women deserved to be cared for safely and equitably. Protecting staff and women came naturally to Jennifer as she had innate leadership qualities.
When Jennifer returned to the North East in the 1970s she became a midwifery sister at the Newcastle General Hospital’s maternity unit and then latterly – when the two city maternity units merged – at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).
Colleagues recall how Jennifer liked order and ran her Delivery Suite with military like precision. She is fondly remembered as being both a force to be reckoned with, yet consummately kind in equal measure known for going above and beyond for her most vulnerable patients.
Jennifer’s career spanned many changes in the NHS that shaped the profession she was so proud of, and she was appointed a Supervisor of Midwives – a role Jennifer was extremely passionate about, upholding the UKCC Rules and The NMC Code, and she was respected regionally for her knowledge, impartiality and ability to help those in need of professional support. Being honoured with the Chief Midwifery Officer’s Gold Medal is a fitting recognition for Jennifer’s outstanding contribution to midwifery practice, and for her determination to go above and beyond to provide excellent care, leadership and inspiration to both her colleagues and patients.