What makes people want to go into nursing?
Compassion? A wish to make a difference? A recent article in the Independent suggested something far less positive. The article reported on a study examining the effects of parents’ gender roles at home on their children’s aspirations, and proclaimed that the daughters of men who do their share of household chores are more likely to want to become doctors and accountants rather than nurses or teachers. It went on to equate careers in medicine and accountancy with ambition and, by implication, nursing and teaching with lack of ambition.
My first instinct was to lambast the researchers – who were they to decide that nursing (or teaching for that matter) was a career for the unambitious? They had obviously not bothered to look at the career opportunities open to nurses, or the influence the profession now wields.
But when I looked at the original study it didn’t mention specific careers, or use the word ‘ambition’ – that interpretation was all the journalist’s own work, and seemed to be based largely on earning potential. The study simply examined how parents’ roles in the home predict children’s aspirations. A key finding was that daughters of fathers in more egalitarian households express a greater interest in non-stereotypical roles, and the researchers concluded that a more balanced division of labour among parents might promote greater workplace equality in the future. Nothing about nursing, and nothing about ambition – lots about equality at home and at work.
I’ve come to expect some sections of the press to use nursing as shorthand for many insults, but what has The Independent got against two professions that contribute so much? Its attitude can be summarised as ‘why make a difference when you can make money?’ People who go into nursing are ambitious – they just don’t limit their ambition to whatever does most for their bank balance.