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'What can be done about the lack of men in nursing?'


Nursing is an exciting, challenging and rewarding career, but would benefit from including more men.

david wood gary souter

david wood gary souter

David Wood (left) and Gary Souter (right)

There have always been fewer male students admitted to study nursing, but that figure seems to have stalled at around 9% for many years. This figure varies slightly depending on which university and which field of nursing – for example, mental health nursing attracts more candidates than some of the other fields.

Why is it that nursing isn’t more appealing to males and what should and could be done about it?

Females are quite rightly entering traditional male workplaces in greater numbers; the same cannot be said for males entering traditional female work places, such as nursing.

Nursing is still seen as a female profession, which is not helped by some of the gendered job titles, such as ‘matron’ and ‘sister’. These belong to a bygone age; they need rebranding with gender-neutral job titles.

Caring is central to nursing but caring is still predominantly seen as a role performed by women. Caring challenges masculine stereotypes, somehow men who perform caring roles are seen as ‘unmanly’, with some even having their sexuality questioned.

Caring though can be done equally well by both males and females, so needs to be reframed as something normalised within a more equal society. Gender stereotypes are formed at a young age, so more work is needed with children of school age to change this.

Universities and their placement partners need to develop strategies to recruit more men into nursing. It is important to use positive male role models to help inspire other men to join the nursing profession.

Nursing needs to be presented as a good career choice for boys in schools. Male nurses working in clinical practice and male student nurses need to go into schools and colleges to talk to boys about a career in nursing. Similarly, at university open days there needs to be good representation from male nurses working in clinical practice as well as male lecturers and nursing students.

“Some male students have found the experience of being the only male in an academic advisor group to be quite isolating”

At Sheffield Hallam University we have established better support through the tutorial system and a peer support group called Men In Nursing Together (MINT).

Some male students have found the experience of being the only male in an academic advisor group to be quite isolating. In response to this we have arranged the student groups for the new first-year students in 2017-18 so that male students are buddied up with at least one other male student. Feedback so far suggests this has helped to reduce feelings of isolation and enhanced their student experience.

MINT has helped to connect our male student nurses and provide them with greater peer support. The group enables them to share their experiences of being a student nurse and especially their experiences of working in clinical placement areas.

The group aim to raise awareness of recruiting more men into nursing and to work with the university to promote nursing as an exciting opportunity for men.

The group began with a small number of nurse lecturers and male student nurses representing all fields of nursing. The group has quickly grown in size and now includes male nursing staff within the local NHS trusts.

MINT has quickly developed a national online social media presence through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Plans are in place to take part in charity events, to promote positive role-modelling and to continue to attract new members. In addition, members of the MINT group have taken part in videos aimed at recruiting the next generation of nurses.

An inclusive, gender-balanced nursing workforce could have a beneficial effect on healthcare for patients and service users, as well as helping to fill the shortages in nursing recruitment throughout the NHS. To be able to do this we need to develop strategies to encourage more males to consider nursing as a viable future career.

David Wood is principal lecturer in adult nursing and public health, Sheffield Hallam University; Gary Souter is senior lecturer in mental health nursing, Sheffield Hallam University


Readers' comments (4)

  • MINT sounds like an excellent idea and forward thinking. I've been working in The Gambia and Uganda; where there is a more even balance of men and women in nursing. In one hospital in The Gambia, the entire teaching group of thirteen RN's and Nurse Anaesthetists were men. I'm so used to the teaching all female groups, that it seemed like a bizarre experience. In contrast,I'm always disappointed when I teach groups of student nurse in UK about the gender disparity. There is a desperate need for Nurses in the UK and a recruitment strategy that targeted men and the imposition of gender-neutral job titles (I shouldn't have to ask for this, its 2018) are long overdue.

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  • In Ontario Canada where I practice, the percentage of men in nursing has grown from approx. 3% to about 12% over a 20 year period. In the 400 hundred bed teaching hospital that I work in that 12% figure is reflected in the front line nursing staff but in managerial and education roles the numbers are very close to 50%.I believe that the increase is a reflection of an economic shift from a natural resource and manufacturing base to an economy more closely linked to high tech and specialty service industries including healthcare. People go where the jobs are and nurses in Canada are well paid, no matter their gender.

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  • Maybe men are most interested in opportunities for careers which offer a good salary and status. So also are women, but their expectations are realistic. The response to the ballot on recent pay award was pathetic.

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  • Nursing does not need more men. It needs more nurses, irrespective of what is in their underwear.

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