Our resident US nurse Sara Morgan wonders would more men go into nursing in the UK if the inherently feminine titles such as ‘sister’ and ‘matron’ were eliminated?
The first time someone addressed me as ‘Sister’, I had two reactions: the first was to look around for the only person on earth who has the biological qualifications to address me in that way —my sibling. The second was to revert back to memories of the parochial school that I attended as a child, where many of the teachers were nuns and who were also referred to as sisters. In short, the title of ‘sister’ didn’t seem to fit me well and it made me slightly uncomfortable. And if it made me, a woman, uncomfortable, what effect must it have on our male colleagues?
I am constantly amazed as the sheer number of titles that exist in the nursing profession in the UK. On the wards alone, there are junior and senior staff nurses, junior and senior sisters, matrons, charge nurses (not to be confused with the nurse-in-charge, since they are not always the same thing) and ward managers.
Some of these titles cover the same role in male and female versions and some just differ by hospital trust or PCT. In an era when we are trying to make it as easy as possible for patients to identify who is who, wouldn’t it help to have as few titles as possible? It would make it easier for our colleagues, too. I am sure that there has been many a junior doctor who has tried to find ‘sister’ only to realize after wasting precious time that he was looking for a man, not a woman.
Here are some of my areas of confusion: on different wards that I have been on recently, the term ‘charge nurse’ has referred to either a male in a Band 6 position, or the ward manager or the nurse-in-charge for the day, regardless of gender. And what do you call a matron who is male? More importantly, what would they like to be called?
At home, we have three broad categories of labels: staff nurses, charge nurses (these are staff nurses who are experienced enough and have the necessary skills to run a shift in the area that they work. They are only called ‘charge nurse’ on shifts when they are allocated to that role—so there is a single charge nurse at any given time) and nurse managers, who handle the hiring, firing, annual reviews and budget for each ward. We all wore the same uniform and had the same title – nurse— on our name tags. Think of the money that the hospital saved on having a single uniform and by not having to order new name tags every time someone changed bands.
But, back to my original question: would more men go into nursing in the UK if we jettisoned the outdated labels? I understand wanting to honor the history of the profession, but does that mean that we have to desperately cling to it? If we wanted to keep to our history that much, we would be a profession of capped, skirted and single women. Clearly, we decided that such restrictive criteria were detrimental to the profession. Isn’t it time to start seeing gender-specific titles in the same way?
About Sara Morgan
Sara Morgan trained and practiced as a nurse in the United States before coming to work in the UK. She has worked as both a nurse practitioner and as a lead nurse on the Productive Ward initiative.