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STUDENT BLOG

'Is being a man a barrier to a career as a nurse?'

  • 2 Comments

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

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • I've been qualified for 19 years and have worked in the community for 18 of those, mostly as a DN. I honestly can't recall ever using a female chaperone or feeling the need to. I would also add that I have only had to defer to a female colleague about a dozen times in my entire career. Equally, female colleagues have been asked by the occasional male patient for a male nurse. This right is also offered to patients in general practice and elsewhere in the NHS. Of course, males are the minority at around 10% but probably only 5% within the community. Although I now no longer work as a full time DN, I continue to do the occasional shift. I've never looked back and it's opened up a variety of great opportunities along the way. My mother was a nurse for 40 years, as were several of her sisters and my brother is a paramedic. Collectively my family has given the NHS around 320 years of service and so I guess it's in my DNA. Stick with it, it's early days and if or when you'll find that things do get easier in that you'll be judged on merit as opposed to your gender.

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  • I have just had to take a break at the end of my first year of training.

    Previously I have worked in GP surgeries as a receptionist and healthcare assistant.

    In my first placement I spent a week on a gynae day unit and found myself the only member of the nursing staff who happened to be male. Often patients would ask for me to leave the room, which to some degree is understandable, though it is puzzling to see male medical staff not have similar issues.

    There are some subjects that can be very delicate and you may find that this goes the other way too - when later on placement on a rehabilitation ward, the male patients would prefer that a male member of staff deliver their personal care. Unfortunately the situation has been that there may not always be a male member of staff and in my experience men seem to be more accepting that their wishes cannot be accommodated.

    If you are not working in a highly specialised acute female unit, I do not see that being a male is a barrier to your career progression.

    What I will say is that in my experience many older female members of staff have felt that it is very strange for a young man to aspire to be a nurse. I also find that many older patients often think I am training to be a physiotherapist or doctor despite me telling them otherwise. It seems difficult for people of the older generations to understand why I would want to enter into this career.

    Ultimately your attitude and the skills you acquire will set you apart from others.

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