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One of the 10% – only ‘one in ten’ nurses in the UK are male

Only one in ten nurses are male, a figure that has remained static for many years. Studies have suggested that men view nursing as a worthwhile career with good progression opportunities, but they perceive a strong societal link between nursing and femininity, which deters them from taking it up.

An NHS study last year said there was still a ‘stigma’ attached to men in nursing and there were not enough role models to challenge this.

One of the 10% – by Andy Lloyd

Nursing lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire Andy Lloyd shares his insight into being among the ‘one in ten’ male nurses in the UK – including being routinely mistaken for a doctor, and finding inspiration in female mentors and colleagues.

“I’ve met plenty of nurses whom, when asked, declared that it was something they ‘always wanted to do’.  Like a calling, I guess. Perhaps they identified with the role from a young age. Perhaps they experienced healthcare from the wrong end of the stethoscope at some point in childhood and realised that they wanted to give something back. Maybe their caring, altruistic side spoke to them, inspiring them to help others.

“For me and nursing, none of these things were true. If I use the word ‘career’ here, it is simply to draw upon the verb, in the sense of not being in a good position to stop, like a vehicle careering into a ditch. Mine was not an auspicious start.

“I trained as a chemist, you see. Not the kind who doles out pills – that would have been relevant. No, the kind who spends hours with their head stuck in a fume cupboard, negotiating with clinky glassware and stubborn mass spectrometers. Even thirty years ago, however, I was recognising the plastic nightmare we were unleashing upon the world. While still a lab-rat, I had joined Greenpeace. Disillusioned with where I was heading, and in the midst of a recession, I needed a new job.

“Becoming desperate, I applied for a job as a ward clerk on the cardiac ward at my local hospital. On the interview day, I found myself surrounded by middle-aged candidates (all women) with an actual clue about how to do the job. What was I doing there!? Upon interview, I was offered a nursing role: unqualified, of course. I was certainly that. The Ward Sisters explained that they had seen something in me, although they couldn’t explain exactly what that was.

“Now, as luck would have it, my soon-to-be in-laws were, respectively, a surgeon and ex-ITU sister. I was eager to impress them (beyond my dreadlocks and facial fluff), and felt that I should take their encouragement to ‘go for it’ seriously. So, I accepted the job.

“I was utterly clueless. On my first day, I was asked why I wasn’t in uniform. No one had told me I needed to get that sorted, and it certainly hadn’t occurred to me. Someone helpfully sourced a doctor’s white coat for me (some consultants still wore them in those days, before IC got too PC). In a way, that didn’t help. I was fresh off the street, still dressed like a scientist, and unwittingly pretending to be a doctor. After all, I had the white coat and I was, well, a man.

“It was the shape of things to come. Patients have always thought I was a doctor. Explaining that I was ‘just’ a nursing auxiliary often seemed as strange to me as it did to them. “But, you’re a bloke?” they would say. (Although he would never say it, my Dad asked the same with his eyes). There weren’t many of us male nurses around. There still aren’t; I think we’ve made up a steady 10% of the nursing workforce for some years. Although, to be fair, the majority of healthcare employees generally are women, so there’s a broader context. It’s fine. Sometimes, being different has its advantages.

“For me, the weirdest thing to get used to was the requirement to invade someone’s personal space; to cross that strange social Rubicon. It required significant ‘unlearning’ of social mores I had had on top of that often impenetrable medical lexicon.

“It was all a bit weird at first. Somewhere along the line, an amazing enrolled nurse showed pity and took me under her wing. She was just so inspiring. So caring. Under her informal mentorship, I began to ‘get it’. Within six months of the wrong lab-coat incident, I was embarking upon my nurse training. I was properly committed to my new profession. The compassion I had always known was there – tied to a strong sense of social justice and an ideological belief in the NHS – was blossoming within me in a way that the lab could never have catalysed.

“I may have careered into it by accident, but nursing stood ready to put things right in my working life. It has gifted me so much – the confidence to speak to people, to understand their needs, to help them. Sure, it didn’t appear on my careers wish list at my old boy’s school, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have.”

Nursing at the University of Gloucestershire

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