Now in his third year, Mike reflects on how being a male student nurse has been viewed by his colleagues and patients
As part of my nursing degree, we studied a module on professional identity where we were introduced to the sex-based stereotypes that are associated with nurses.
Men in nursing are, apparently, viewed in some circles as effeminate, homosexual and mainly enter the fields of mental health and learning disability nursing.
”It seems I do not conform to the stereotype”
So, let me introduce myself: my name is Mike Wallis, I’m 36 and I’m a student nurse. I am, as you’ve astutely guessed, a man and I study adult nursing. Not that it matters, but I also identify myself as heterosexual. It seems I do not conform to the stereotype.
When I chose to switch careers and embark on my nursing education, I was told by friends, family and colleagues that people would label me with the previously mentioned stereotypes (my brothers mercilessly and frequently tease me!).
So entering the degree, I suppose I came in thinking that was the case.
”I even got a bit annoyed that I could be unjustly labelled by people who had never met me”
I even got a bit annoyed that I could be unjustly labelled by people who had never met me. Which meant that for a while I developed a bit of a saying when people mentioned my gender, “no such thing as a male nurse.”
But looking back, did my gender actually make any difference?
Well, it is true that some people had opinions on it, but not the opinions I expected. I was frequently told by staff that as a man I would certainly be fast-tracked to a management role.
I also faced a few assumptions, in particular when one consultant was told his new medical student was in the office with the nursing student. I had to politely redirect him to the younger woman in the office who he assumed was the nursing student and I was the medical student.
To patients, my gender was more a mild curiosity. “Oh! You’ve got a male one,” exclaimed one patient when I was introduced as the new student.
“You’re doing the nursing first, but you will obviously be training as a doctor after?” was another frequent query.
”I was always welcomed with open arms”
This was more a generational issue and certainly not the cold, judgemental stereotyping I’d imagined. Yes, I found it daunting at first entering into a female-dominated profession, but I was always welcomed with open arms.
Has being a man made a difference so far? No.
Perhaps it’s a generational issue that’s decreasing with time and increased societal acceptance. Maybe it is actually all in my mind? I assumed people were judging me on the sex-based stereotypes mentioned, so in a way was I judging them and fitting them to a stereotype?
Maybe I’m the one who needs to be more open-minded about the fact that I am a male in nursing and the whole issue is made out to be bigger than it is.
So, for now I’ll just carry on regardless and continue to be a student nurse, who happens to be male.
Mike Wallis is in his third year studying adult nursing at University of York