01/14/2015 08:31 EST | Updated 03/16/2015 05:59 EDT

Midwives from other countries to practise in B.C.

B.C. has taken a step toward making it easier to hire a midwife in the province by funding new training for international students at the University of British Columbia. 

The program will train midwives educated in other countries so they can become fully licensed to practise in B.C. 

Applicants will be individually assessed, and the program will be tailored for each student, recognizing midwifery qualifications and experience gained abroad. 

The first classes will begin this spring with four international students.

The program will expand to eight students per year starting next year. 

The provincial government is providing $680,000 in funding. 

"Now 18 per cent of births in British Columbia are performed by midwives, which is huge progress," said Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson. 

Dina Davidson, of Beautiful Babies Midwifery, in Coquitlam, says her company is so busy it regularly has to turn away pregnant women. "But, we are all aware of the fact there is need for more cultural sensitivity, more outreach, more language skills among midwives."

"We can take about somewhere between 50 and 75 per cent of the people who apply for our care," said Davidson.  

It's hoped expanding UBC's existing four-year midwifery degree program will help meet the growing demand for midwives.

Ganga Jolicoeur, executive director of the Midwives Association of B.C.,  says the new international graduates will be able to deliver quality maternity care in more urban and rural communities.

Midwifery services are fully covered under the B.C. Medical Services plan.