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Nursing needs gender-neutral rebranding, say researchers


Nursing needs to undergo a gender-neutral “rebranding” to break down barriers stopping men entering the profession, researchers have urged after it emerged less than 10% of student nurses in Scotland were male.

The study found the “inherent” perception of nursing as a woman’s job was one of the biggest factors deterring men from the career, while the term “male nurse” was identified as reinforcing the female nurse stereotype.

“This report provides us with key insights as to how we can increase the numbers of males entering the profession”

Heather Whitford

The Men in Nursing investigation was carried out by researchers from four Scottish universities and commissioned by NHS Education for Scotland – through the Scottish Collaboration for the Enhancement of Pre‐Registration Nursing – to explore the causes of under-representation of men in nursing roles.

Views were collected from nursing students, university and college nursing lecturers, as well as secondary school career advisors and guidance teachers across the country.

Data gathered for the report found less than 10% of students enrolled on pre-registration nursing programmes in Scotland were male ­– a figures that it stated had been largely unchanged for the past 10 years – and that male students were less likely to complete their courses than their female peers.

The report stated: “The findings of the literature were congruent with the qualitative data analysis and confirmed that nursing is viewed as worthwhile for men, providing a rewarding career in a caring profession, financial security and opportunities for travel.

“However, nursing is inherently seen as a female profession and this is a powerful deterrent for many,” it noted.

“Nursing is inherently seen as a female profession and this is a powerful deterrent”

Study report

Researchers determined that positive male nursing role models, personal experiences of care or caring, and encouragement from partners could help to “overcome this societal view” that nursing was a female-only realm.

The absence of a male presence in advertising or university recruitment material around nursing was also labelled in the report as “not helpful”.

Meanwhile, discomfort around male nurses performing more physically intimate care tasks was highlighted in the study as a possible barrier.

However, evidence showed these gender sterotypes were not as damaging in mental health nuring, which was seen as a ”acceptable career choice for men”. 

The document sets of a series of recommendations designed to help encourage more men to join the profession, which is currently in the midst of a staffing crisis.

Recommendations include:

  • A gender-neutral rebranding of nursing at a national level
  • Greater education in schools to promote nursing as a career for boys and girls
  • Use of high profile role models to change the narrative of male nursing
  • Offer potential students taster sessions to experience the reality of nursing
  • Train NHS and education staff on the importance of using gender-neutral language and images
  • Stamp out the term ‘male nurse’

Report co-author Dr Heather Whitford, from the University of Dundee’s school of nursing and health sciences, said: “Attracting more men into nursing is a huge challenge, but this report provides us with key insights as to how we can increase the numbers of males entering the profession.

“By introducing more gender-neutral narratives we can show the potential of nursing as a worthwhile and rewarding career, regardless of gender,” she said.

“I hate the term ‘male nurse’ – it has to go. I am not a male nursing student”

Craig Davidson

Craig Davidson is in the second year of an adult nursing course at Glasgow Caledonian University.

A member of the Royal College of Nursing Students’ Committee for Scotland and school officer for his university’s nursing department, Mr Davidson is fighting to break down obstacles standing in the way of men starting a career in nursing.

The 33-year-old said the recommendations made in the report would offer a “fantastic start” in redressing the gender imbalance in the profession.

He added: “I hate the term ‘male nurse’ – it has to go. I am not a male nursing student; I will not be a male nurse. I also think gendered terms like sister and matron also need to go. In Scotland, we have already led the way by scrapping these titles.

“Nursing should be a diverse, inclusive, genderless profession. I passionately believe we should represent the communities we serve,” said Mr Davidson.

craig davidson.jpg

Craig Davidson

Source: Chris Austin/Sunday Post

Craig Davidson

He added: “I also am pleased to see that the report highlights the need to go into schools, particularly primary schools. It is at this age where these societal opinions are formed, and we have years’ worth of opinions to undo.”

Mr Davidson, who was inspired to enter the profession by his nurse mother, reinforced findings from the report that low pay in nursing may be a “disincentive” for some men.

“Scotland, particularly the west of Scotland where I am from, still has a great deal of inherent male pride attached,” he said. “Men either want to or may feel they have to be the breadwinner of the family.

“Nursing is not well paid, there is no real argument there,” he said. “I think if this were addressed more men would consider the profession.”

Encouragingly, Mr Davidson said he had never encountered any negativity towards his decision to join nursing, although some patients had questioned him on why he wasn’t studying to become a doctor. 

Researchers from Edinburgh, West of Scotland and Robert Gordon universities also worked on the study.  


Readers' comments (5)

  • I agree in that I loathe the term “male nurse.” I’m a nurse and proudly so. My degree is a bachelor of nursing, not a bachelor of male nursing.

    Although I raise a smile at being “Sister.” It’s quaint and I don’t fuss over it.

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  • Even trying to make it gender neutral, I think will take a lot to appeal to men. Can be done as most doctors now are female! But I don’t think you will ever see large numbers of men rushing to apply.

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  • I've been nursing for nearly 30 years now. As a male in a female dominated profession I've always felt a sense of pride in the fact that I chose to be a nurse, even when it wasn't a socially acceptable career for a man. I feel that there is a stigma attached which a rebrand may help long term. Unfortunately, the term nurse has female connotations and I believe that it is the name itself which may have to be rebranded.

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  • I have been a Nurse for over 36 years and have always disliked the term Male Nurse, I am a Nurse the same way the colleagues I have had the privilege of working with over the years are also Nurses not Female Nurses. All genders bring something different to the role in addition to the common ones, we are in the job because we care and want to help others. I agree with one comment that making the financial side more attractive to help compete with other roles that require a degree would go a long way but I am not sure making Nursing gender neutral would necessarily be a game changer but I keep an open mind. The way men in Nursing are regarded now is vastly different to the way we were seen and treated when I first started which has been a very big leap forward. I remember being told in my training on one of my placements that "Men shouldn't be Nurses" by the Senior Sister and I was banished to the sluice room for the next 8 weeks. lucky for me there was a few members of the staff that didn't share that opinion. Ward nights out were always fun though as the only male in a large group of women I was regularly the envy of the local male population much to the amusement of my colleagues.

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  • Until nurses salaries reflect the responsibilities and difficulties of the job, only a few men will be willing to subject themselves to it. Women on the other hand historically seem more prepared to put up with shoddy treatment.

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