Become a Global Maternal Health Leader

International leadership training courses explore maternal health, women’s empowerment, natural childbirth and complementary and alternative medicine in the international context. As a student and volunteer you will explore tools and strategies to make significant improvements in maternal and infant health where it is needed most.


Each course has a unique theme and location. Click on a link to learn more.

Reproductive Health, Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala

Gentle Birth, Bali, Indonesia

Nutrition for Maternal and Newborn Health, Cape Town, South Africa


January 19 – March 27, 2015

April 13 – June 19, 2015

June 22-August 28, 2015

September 14 – November 20, 2015

What to Expect

All study abroad courses…

  • Are offered on a stand-alone basis, open to entry-level students from a variety of educational backgrounds seeking international experience.
  • Combine 10-weeks of international volunteer service with 180-hours of online learning
  • Are conducted in partnership with women’s health and independent birth professionals in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.
  • Emphasize public health and ethics that form the basis of high quality, culturally relevant, appropriate care for women, newborns and childbearing families.
  • Build capacity for personal reflection and critical dialog about world culture, power dynamics and women’s issues as they relate to civic participation and social change.
  • Develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required to be effective global leaders regardless of the industry or field.
  • Adhere to the Guidelines for Volunteer, Internship Experience and Work (VIEW) Programs Abroad (

Within each course, participants will gain introductory knowledge and/or understanding of*…

  • The social determinants of women’s health and/or maternal and newborn health as they relate to international healthcare service delivery systems, community health and women’s empowerment.
  • The principles of community-based primary care using health promotion and disease prevention and control strategies.
  • Indicators of quality health care services.
  • Principles of health education.
  • Natural and local health services and infrastructures supporting the continuum of care (organization and referral systems), how to access needed resources for midwifery care.
  • Relevant national or local programs or initiatives (provisions of services or knowledge of how to assist community members to access services, such as immunization and prevention or treatment of health conditions prevalent in the country or locality).
  • The concept of alarm (preparedness), the protocol for referral to higher health facility levels, and appropriate communication during transport (emergency care).
  • The legal and regulatory framework governing reproductive health for women of all ages, including laws, policies, protocols and professional guidelines.
  • Human rights and their effects on health of individuals, including but not limited to: health disparities, domestic partner violence and cultural practices.

 *Based on educational competency recommendations for social, epidemiological and cultural context of maternal and newborn care by the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM).

Immerse Yourself Fully…

Students should expect to spend a minimum of 40-hours per week engaged in various aspects of the course, plus additional hour’s on-call, as follows:

  • Approximately 15 hours/week of online coursework, including lectures, case reviews, discussion, personal reflection exercises, quizzes, independent reading, and group assignments.
  • Approximately 5 hours/week of on-site workshops and skills demonstration.
  • Approximately 20 hours/week of volunteer placement under supervision of local staff, traditional midwives, doulas and/or other community leaders (see individual course descriptions for details).
  • Additional on-call rotations will be scheduled on a weekly basis at the discretion of the supervisor.
  • Students will be given at least 1 full day of rest per week.

International Placement

Student placements are based on mutually respectful and beneficial partnerships between Birth Institute and independent, self-sufficient, and locally run health clinics and midwifery practices who demonstrate a strong commitment to providing optimal care and culturally appropriate services to their community; believe that student programs will have a positive impact on local and organizational resources, economics and social/cultural/political dynamics; and are open to introducing students to other aspects of the location such as interaction/interviews with community partners and participation in community events.

For each course location, Birth Institute works closely with an in-country supervisor to maintain clarity with regards to learning objectives, instructor/staff roles, timelines and intended outcomes; agree upon criteria for performance reviews and evaluation; manage and balance the interest of all parties; promote transparency of process; and support the health and well-being of all participants. Policies and procedures for clinical partnerships are documented in the “Clinical Partnership Handbook”.

Admissions Requirements

  • High school diploma (or equivalent).
  • Strong communication and critical thinking skills, maturity, and personal accountability.
  • Minimum of 3-months educational, volunteer or work experience in women’s health, maternal health, complementary and alternative health or related fields.
  • Mercy in Action’s Cultural Competency Course (4 contact hours, online and self-paced) must be completed before the Study Abroad course begins. Qualifies as an approved module on cultural competency for health professionals required by NARM for professional midwifery certification and recertification.
  • See individual course descriptions for additional site-specific prerequisites.

Already a practicing midwife? Join our team as an advanced student and learn skills for facilitation, teaching and international voluntary service. LEARN MORE about our Facilitator Training course.

Who We’re Looking For

The individuals who participate in our Study Abroad courses today will become leaders in maternal health tomorrow. We are looking for applicants who want to have a positive impact on the future of midwifery, who are willing to enter humbly and serve in the role of observer and volunteer, and who will engage thoughtfully in a critical dialogue about the state of maternal health worldwide. Candidates should be committed to gaining new perspectives and finding culturally appropriate ways to engage and contribute to the overall experience and success of the program. We require that participants exhibit excellent communication skills and be committed to learning non-violent communication and conflict resolution techniques, which requires an unyielding respect for diverse perspective and practices.

From torrential downpours during the rainy season and working in 100 degree heat, to working in a foreign language and eating new foods, participants must be prepared to leave the comforts of home behind and open themselves to the joys of living a different lifestyle. It is not always easy to maintain a positive attitude in the midst of challenging dynamics and unexpected situations and we will evaluate applicants based on their perceived and demonstrated ability to do so.

Admissions Process

 Applications are evaluated on a rolling basis. A maximum of 4 students will be accepted at each location/date. Students who receive an offer of admission are required to submit the full clinical fee to guarantee placement.

Ready to apply?  Please visit the online application for instructions.

“One of the reasons I chose this program was for the unique learning method it offers. To be able to be in a observational/hands-on environment right away and really learn directly from other midwives in this way is such an amazing opportunity, especially before I go on to a more formal midwifery training in Canada”

— Study Abroad Student