Leadership, Western Pacific

Celebrating the Legacy of Norma Campbell 

3 July 2024

As Norma Campbell prepares to retire after a 43-year career in midwifery, we celebrate her remarkable contributions to the profession in New Zealand and beyond. In an interview, Norma shares insights from her remarkable career, spanning over four decades, marked by leadership, innovation, and unwavering dedication to improving maternal health. 

Norma began her career as a student nurse at The Princess Margaret Hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand, later completing her midwifery education at the Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland. Returning to New Zealand in 1983, she worked in the neonatal intensive care unit at Christchurch Hospital and then at Christchurch Polytechnic. As a founding member of the New Zealand College of Midwives, she played a pivotal role in advancing midwifery autonomy following the 1990 Nurses Amendment Act. Her pioneering efforts included working alongside colleagues to establish one of the first autonomous midwifery practices in Canterbury. 

Her next role was as the Executive Director of Midwifery and Maternity for both Canterbury and the West Coast Districts of the South Island of New Zealand. In this role she was instrumental in shaping the Canterbury Maternity Strategy, which has significantly improved maternity services in the region. Highlights of her career include the establishment of the Oromairaki Community Maternity Unit in Rolleston and the Kurawaka: Waipapa Community Birthing Unit in Christchurch. 

Norma’s work has always centred on community involvement and evidence-based practice. She believes in creating midwifery-led environments that promote normal physiological births, thereby reducing unnecessary medical interventions and improving outcomes for women and babies. Her commitment to these principles is evident in the successful opening of two primary birthing units in Canterbury, which are now garnering widespread support and leading to improved birth outcomes and increased satisfaction among midwives and families. 

Norma also recalls the early days of her career, highlighting the evolution of midwifery in New Zealand. “In the late 1970s, we had no education programs for midwives. In fact, in our language, the word was just about extinct,” she says. This context underscores the significant strides midwifery has made, largely due to the efforts of midwives like Norma. 

A strong advocate for trusting the birthing process, Norma emphasises the need for midwives to regain confidence in physiological birth, “What we’ve lost is the confidence as midwives because we don’t trust women anymore. We don’t trust physiology anymore and we need to change that.” 

Norma’s philosophy extends to the importance of community involvement and support. “I’m a firm believer that you have to have the community behind you, sharing the vision and, in fact, driving the vision,” she says. Her ability to engage communities has been a cornerstone of her success in establishing birthing units and enhancing maternity care. 

In her role as Executive Director of Maternity and Midwifery for Canterbury and the West Coast, Norma has navigated numerous challenges, from securing funding to gaining community and governmental support. Her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic was crucial in ensuring the safety of those giving birth during these unprecedented times. 

As Norma steps into retirement, she reflects on her career with pride and gratitude. “It’s been an amazing 43 years in midwifery, and I never would have thought that I’d be here for my work. It’s beyond my wildest dreams,” she mentions.  

At ICM, we celebrate the incredible work of midwives like Norma. She has been a tireless advocate for midwives, ensuring they receive the recognition they deserve. Her efforts have not only advanced midwifery practice in New Zealand but have also set a standard for midwifery care worldwide. 

To learn more about Norma’s journey and how she established two successful primary birthing units in New Zealand watch this in-depth interview led by Sally Paiman, ICM’s Chief Executive. 

Watch the full interview with Norma Campbell