Mother-of-12 Jeanette Thewlis, 49, has recently returned to midwifery after an absence of nearly 25 years. She left the profession to have her family, and it is her family - in particular, the expense of putting the older children through university - that has prompted her return to paid employment.

An acquaintance told her about the return-topractice course at Oxford Brookes University.

She signed up even though she was unsure of making the grade: 'I was terrified at the prospect of the upheaval involved. I was well aware that there had been a lot of changes in the health service. And I had doubts about my ability to remember what I should be able to remember. '

Ms Thewlis soon found herself enjoying the 'peer atmosphere' and was impressed by the quality of the teaching. 'It wasn't the struggle I thought it would be. ' She fulfilled the midwifery course requirement of 120 hours of clinical placements at the delivery suite of the John Radcliffe Hospital. 'It was a shock to the system, but the other midwives were very helpful. It was the hospital I would trained at, and had my children at, so I wasn't absolutely walking into a new situation. '

After completing the course, she had no trouble securing an annual-hours contract at the Radcliffe, based on the assumption that she will work 21 hours a week, but allowing her time off in the school holidays. 'We are finding it a bit tough at home - I haven't been too dogmatic about my shifts because I think there has to be some flexibility on both sides. '

The intensity of work in the 21st-century NHS, and the new partnership relationship between staff and patients, is taking some getting used to. But she has no regrets: 'It gets me out and into a different situation. The change is satisfying. '