Last month researchers from Scotland urged that nursing undergo a ‘rebranding’ to encourage more men to come into the profession. This suggestion – which led to everyone in the country who works in marketing to throw their arms in the air and scream ‘pick me, pick me’ – was prompted by reports that only 10% of student nurses in Scotland were male
Given the drop in student numbers that we explored together last month I make that about 27 student nurses?
Hasn’t it long been the case that about 10% of the nursing register is made up of men? So this need to target men isn’t new is it? I mean, it is possible for a cynic to see this story as “nurse recruitment is in such crisis we’re going to have to start hiring more men… someone get Sister Mabel a chair, quickly…” but I’m no cynic, at least, not until I see the word rebranding.
Rebranding is what they did to the Milky Bar Kid. It is what they are currently doing to Captain Birdseye. PJ and Duncan were successfully rebranded as Ant and Dec – well, when I say successfully, you know what I mean.
Nursing needs something more profound than rebranding. We could rebrand Syria as a fantastic holiday destination but it would be better served by not having bombs dropped on it. Similarly, we can rebrand nursing as a gender-neutral voyage of discovery but decent pay, conditions and wellbeing would help nursing to sell itself far more effectively to young people who look at the job now and often see what looks like guerrilla warfare.
Arguably nursing already looks quite attractive to men anyway. While 90% of the nurses are women, two thirds of senior nursing positions are filled by men. In fact, right across the NHS, despite there being more female staff (77%), senior posts are more likely to be occupied by men, posts including chief executives, finance directors and medical directors.
Then there is pay. Figures published by the BBC in April showed a gender pay gap of 23% in the NHS. Might that be useful for the rebranding exercise, I wonder? “Boys, come and join us, you’ll earn a quarter more than the girls in no time at all?” I’m sure the women won’t mind a bit.
Nursing doesn’t need rebranding. It needs some re-nourishment, perhaps some rehabilitation, definitely some reinvestment but rebranding? No, rebranding is about changing perceptions and nursing needs more than that. It needs the conditions in which it functions to change.
Perhaps then we might rebrand something else? How about men for example? Or at least the version of manhood often marketed as something to aspire to?
The best men I have met have tended to be the kindest. The bravest men have been the gentlest. The strongest have been the least aggressive. Most of my role models were women. If I ask nurses I have admired – who happen to be men – whom they learnt the job from, they tend to cite women. I wonder, is that a version of maleness we invite young men to inhabit? Might it be more helpful if we helped men aspire to a broader brand of masculinity?
What, in the eyes of ‘many’ young men, does manhood look like? Shouting the loudest? Owning the most? Or holding the hand of a confused old man in A&E? It would be great if more men wanted to nurse but as is so often the case with research, its implications make most sense when put in its widest context. If we rebrand what heroism or good looks like we wouldn’t need to rebrand nursing.
Mark Radcliffe is author of Stranger than Kindness.
Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe