Something happened that has left me deep in thought about my future career as a nurse.
Although I am currently on my spoke placement with health visitors, who are such a wonderful team of dedicated and committed people, my mentor knows that my ambition is to work with the district nurse team and help people in the community and kindly arranged for me to spend the afternoon with a practice nurse.
The practice nurse was friendly and warm, and generously gave up some of her time to let me sit in with her. She clearly had a wealth of knowledge and was very good at her job. I hope I can be half as good as she is after I am qualified.
‘However, in her introduction she always referred to me as “a male nurse”’.
Each time a patient came in she introduced me, which I welcomed, and asked if the patient minded me sitting in. However, in her introduction she always referred to me as “a male nurse”.
It seemed the fact I was male took precedent over my status as a student nurse. I understand that nurses seek consent for a student to be present, and have been present before when they have done so; however the inclusion of “male” meant the permission being sought was different, made more complicated because of my gender.
Most of the patients consented to me being there and I was fortunate to see saw some excellent practice; but some didn’t agree to let me stay.
The practice nurse was apologetic every time I had to leave the room, but I smiled nodded and said that I understood.
“When I’m qualified, will patients decline my help simply because I am a man?”
However, this episode left me feeling reeling. Will there be issues in the future? When I’m qualified, will patients decline my help simply because I am a man? I expected there to be some sensitivity, but it has really got me worried that a male nurse - or a nurse who is a man - may not be acceptable to many people.
I am now wondering whether my gender is a barrier to my career as a nurse? Are patients who are women discouraged from coming to see a practice nurse who is a man? And if so, can I overcome this - and how?
‘I was particularly concerned by a comment which stated “male nurses have a chaperone to avoid allegations of abuse, because men after all are much more likely to abuse than women”’.
I sought advice from my peers around the country on the RCN student nurse forum on Facebook, and opened a can of worms in the process.
The responses ranged from supportive statements such as “don’t let it put you off” and “we need more male nurses” to “consent is all; you must consider the feelings of the patient”. I was particularly concerned by a comment which stated “male nurses have a chaperone to avoid allegations of abuse, because men after all are much more likely to abuse than women”.
“The fact that male nurses require a chaperone to protect them from potential false allegations makes me wonder what protection that female nurses have against the same.”
But I need not worry too much, apparently. I was told in some of the responses that the bright side of deeply embedded cultural sexism is that nurses who are men often climb the career ladder much faster than their women counterparts.
The fact that nurses who are men require a chaperone to protect them from situations in which allegations have the potential to be made makes me wonder what protection nurses who are women have against the same risk.
I know I am merely scratching the surface of this whole debate. I am a student nurse and feel privileged and proud to be one. Oh, and I happen to be a man. But I hereby vow never to introduce myself as a “male nurse”.
Scott Ferguson is a first-year adult nursing student