Note from TDG:
This post was written by the fantastic Sunday Tortelli, DONA Doula Trainer in Ohio.
Do your research.
Choosing a doula training organization should be based on more than just getting trained as quickly and as close to home as possible, although I acknowledge the appeal. Honestly, anyone can decide to “be a doula” even without formal training, so why even bother? But, it needs to be more than that if doulas, as a profession, are to really make a difference.
Even though women supporting women through childbirth is as old as time, the doula profession is really in its infancy and requires ongoing nurturing to evolve to an even higher status. DONA International is the most respected and longest-standing doula certifying organization in the world for a reason. Founded in 1992 by those who did the original research, which continues to be widely referenced and respected, it is why all of the 90 +/- doula organizations and agencies eventually came to be in existence. But, that might not have much meaning for some.
A few things that might matter when embarking on a professional career as a doula, and which some might wish to consider, are:
Is who you are considering training with non-profit or for-profit? A non-profit organization, such as DONA, funnels all of its membership and certification income into advancing the goals of the profession, collecting data and supporting ongoing research, investing in maternal social justice issues, working toward birth equity, advocating for third-party reimbursement, aligning with strategic partnerships, enhancing the educational process, approving and providing excellent sources of continuing education, providing financial assistance to those in need, and more. But, that’s mostly behind-the-scenes stuff that might not seem flashy or appealing at first glance, but which are hugely important to the future of the doula profession. The direct member benefits are also valuable, such as a quarterly magazine, an exclusive community website with multiple forums, discounts on continuing education and conferences, discounts on liability insurance and discounts on printing and supplies.
Being certified for life may sound appealing, but that does nothing to ensure accountability to professional excellence, which is a big deal if doulas want to be considered a respected and necessary part of the birth team and to be eligible for third-party reimbursement, among other things. Most highly-regarded professions, such as nurses, midwives, doctors, lawyers, lactation professionals, childbirth educators, teachers and others all need to provide proof of continuing education to maintain their certificates, registrations and/or licenses.
I’ll take this opportunity to mention that I have heard doulas say, “No potential client ever asks me if I’m certified.” That’s because they “assume” that, because the doula is providing a professional service, that she is a professional! It is up to us to enlighten potential clients and medical professionals about the differences in training, experience and certification. And that is another thing that DONA and some other respected training/certifying organizations are also trying to uphold and accomplish.
DONA approved trainers…the faculty…are very carefully vetted, highly-experienced doulas with extensive teaching backgrounds, who are required to earn a considerable number of continuing education contact hours, not only in general perinatal topics, but in adult education and cultural awareness and sensitivity. The basis of the curriculum is standardized, so that all who attend our workshops and accomplish the certification process have the same opportunity to achieve the highest level of doula education to launch their practice under the most respected standards of practice and code of ethics. The workshop is just one component of certification, because being a doula is more than knowing facts and having information about comfort techniques. That is merely the foundation. Being a truly effective doula requires developing, among other things, humility, communication and advocacy skills, patience, instincts and empathy that can only come from on-the-job training and experience. Completing births as a requirement for certification is crucial for beginning to develop those essential qualities of a doula.
In conclusion, my advice is to understand that the organization or agency that you align yourself with is crucial to your development and growth as a professional doula. It is so much more than just the initial training and whether it was easy or challenging. It is the adoption of a philosophy, of the mission, vision and purpose that will shape your career. If you find the right fit, you will always be satisfied.
About Sunday Tortelli
Sunday has been privileged to offer childbirth education and birth doula support to hundreds of families in Cleveland, Akron and surrounding communities since 1990 and basic and advanced birth doula training since 1997. She volunteers her time extensively as an advocate for normal birth, locally and internationally.