I hear a lot on Facebook, “If I’d only known that before I took my training…” The market for doula training has changed incredibly, especially in the last 5 years. There are now at least two dozen doula training organizations with programs of varying quality. The onus is now on the prospective doula to figure out which trainer and organization is the best fit for their personal and perinatal career goals. My hope is that doulas will circulate this post to help our future colleagues make their best choice. I’m a firm believer that the best match for you might not be the best match for your best friend. I’ve specialized in adult education for over twenty years and as a doula trainer, I’ve done over 80 beginning and advanced workshops – and loved every single one! Educating adults is my passion and I feel that the more people understand the deeper meaning of birth, the more we will change the world.
Here are some important questions to consider when choosing a training:
- Why do you want to attend?
- Does this trainer have knowledge of your local birth scene?
- Where were the doulas in your area trained?
- How do you learn best?
- What are the trainer’s qualifications, experience, and philosophy of teaching?
- What is included in the curriculum?
- What are the certification requirements of the organization?
- How do the certification processes of the different workshops you’re considering compare?
- What is your budget for doula career training?
- What other knowledge will you need to gather in order to be successful?
Why do you want to attend? A recent study I’m preparing for publication identified 17 unique reasons women attend doula trainings. They fit into four major areas. One, advancing the career they already had. Two, gaining education for a future career goal in nursing or midwifery. Three, becoming a volunteer, hospital-based, or independent practice doula. Lastly, personal reasons that included making sense of their past births and/or preparing for future pregnancies, or attending the births of family members. Being clear on exactly why you want to attend can help you ascertain what training is best suited to meet those goals.
Does this trainer have knowledge of your local birth scene? Is this important? If you live in a rural area or disenfranchised community, having a trainer who understands and can help you with your unique challenges can be critical to your success. If she knows the staff and preferences of the local hospitals that can be a real plus. You can learn the behavioral norms, expectations, and attitudes about doulas in the workshop rather than trial and error on your own. This may be less important if these answers are easy to discover or where there are many hospitals with a large staff.
Where were the doulas in your area trained? Are they open to doulas from other organizations? I’ve spent many years combatting cliquishness in doula circles. My attitude is that there’s no need to compete with other doulas because mothers choose whom they feel safe with in their gut. This has nothing to do with the doula and everything to do with the mother. When we promote the doula profession together, we create a market. However, my attitude is not shared universally! Do some investigative work on the Internet and/or go to a Meet The Doulas event or doula meeting (ask them if its alright). Find out where they got their training. Ask them what trainers/organizations they respect and what topics they wish had been included in their workshop. I’m not advocating going against your heart. But if you are going to practice in an area, it can be easier to get along with others and get referrals when people know that you’ve had training similar to theirs. (Unfortunate but true.)
How do you learn best? Do you prefer hands-on instruction, one on one attention, reading or hearing information? Do you like to move at your own pace over a longer length of time or a challenging intensive experience? To me, effective doula training is career preparation as well as a personal examination of one’s perspectives. Choosing the right environment to optimize learning can be a critical factor in your success. As a face-to-face [F2F] educator, I recently challenged myself to train as an online instructor. It made me realize that for some people and situations, online learning can be equally effective with a dedicated instructor utilizing high quality resources.
Who is the trainer? What are her qualifications, experience, and philosophy of teaching? What are the testimonials and ratings on her web site? What is her reputation among the doulas in your area? The trainer makes a HUGE difference in your experience – they vary a great deal in their teaching ability and emphasis on what they consider important. If they don’t have testimonials on their site, ask for references. Make sure their teaching is a good match to your learning style. If you are serious about doula work, putting forth some additional money and time is an investment in your future career and self-confidence. You may need to travel or wait a few more months for your best workshop. Your doula workshop should change your life!
What is the curriculum? What will you be taught? What does she emphasize in the workshop? Each trainer in an organization likely has a personalized curriculum. If this is not listed on the web site or given in response to your inquiry, ask for a schedule and list of educational objectives. Is this what you want to learn? For example, while DONA has a core curriculum, all DONA trainers can add to that curriculum as they see fit (it must be approved). Mine is an 8 additional hours and 114 additional pages in the manual than what is required – and I am not unique.
In addition, people have different levels of education, experience and career goals. The person who has been to 10 births and knows they want a doula business has different learning needs than the woman just hired by a community based agency to work with Early Head Start clients. While both need ethics training, one needs doula business planning and the other needs to know how to work with clients with few medical care options.
Each workshop also has its own mood. I adapt my material for nurses, nursing students, midwifery students as well as open workshops. I’ve done workshops in hospitals, birth centers, and my living room. Each group has unique needs and to be respected and inspired. It’s the same material but I do it differently. Do the materials give you a classroom feeling or a Red Tent feeling? The group influences the trainer, but the trainer sets the tone. Is that tone a good fit for you?
What are the certification requirements of the organization? Do they offer certification with a variety of educational and experiential requirements and where your references will be checked? Are they certifying that you as an individual are qualified to do this work? Are you required to follow behavioral standards that protect you, your clients, and thus the reputation of the doula profession from misconduct? Or is there a certificate of completion of the organization’s requirements that they are calling “certification”?
Of the trainings you are considering, how do their certification processes compare? Do you understand them? Which ones do you agree with? Certification is an issue that may become critical to your career. With changes in health care, third party reimbursement may only be possible to doulas with a certification process as already described. Hospitals may bar access to doulas who do not have certification from an organization they recognize. Disgruntled consumers are blogging on the Internet about how they didn’t understand the meaning of certification. If you don’t agree with the behavioral conduct outlined by certification process, be clear with yourself about why. Discuss this with other practicing doulas and both of the trainers you’re considering. Since this is a decision that may define the future direction of your doula career, become clear on your stance and options now.
What is your budget for doula career training? What does this workshop cost? What other costs are there besides the workshop? If you want to be a professional doula, it is highly likely that you will put more money into your education and initial business plan in the first years than you will make in income. However, training is an investment. Spending an extra $200 or $300 for an educational experience that meets your needs will be cheaper in the long run. You’ll feel more confident and be more likely to follow through with getting new clients and integrating into your new peer group (thus getting referrals). If money is an issue, contact the potential trainer and ask for options. There are several who don’t advertise it, but have full or partial scholarships or payment plans.
What other knowledge will I need to gather in order to be successful? Are there other low-cost resources available? Many doulas don’t approach birth or postpartum doula work as a business or as a significant lifestyle change. In many areas, colleges and universities offers inexpensive short courses in beginning a small business that are applicable to doula work. Some hospital staff will be appreciative if you take their volunteer training to learn how their system works. This will usually cost you a few hours a month volunteering but can offer valuable knowledge and familiarity with a medical setting. Can I volunteer my services and gain experience? Will what training I take matter?
The first step in making an informed decision is knowing what you need to be informed about! Asking these key questions will hopefully help potential doulas find the best fit rather than the cheapest training or the one that is currently trending. A good doula training strongly influences your career path. While you can take a second workshop if you didn’t like the first one, that’s an expensive option. By doing your research now, you will feel more committed to your decision because you know its right for you.