Degendering nursing

This International Women’s Day, nurses of every gender will be working to save lives, showing us how both men and women are vital to the world of nursing.

Many students have endured 12-hour shifts working behind a bar or serving stuck-up people at an exclusive event, but they get paid for it (even if it is a measly salary). However, few students have spent seemingly endless shifts caring for a stranger, for free.

Student nurses are, on a daily basis, exposed to the most intimate and private parts of a person, both physical and emotional – often before the end of their first year studying the degree. They face and overcome challenges every day that many will never even encounter in an entire lifetime.

It is no secret that nursing is one of the most tasking jobs a person could have, as they face working around dangerous diseases and are put under increased levels of pressure. Nurses often speak of the rewards and triumphs that come hand in hand with tragedies and hardships. Despite this, thousands of student nurses qualify every year as the future workforce of our NHS.


Emma and Ian agree that male nurses can have a positive effect on both patients and staff (Credit: Emily Hewitt)

Emma and Ian are both in their final year at university and will soon qualify as nurses. Both feel they have a grounded understanding of what it is to be a nurse, saying that care and compassion are at the forefront of the job. Ian says: “Being open to the idea of holistic nursing” is important, where a nurse looks at a patient and sees a mind, body and soul and not merely another medical diagnosis.

Despite its reputation of requiring more strength – both physically and mentally – than other professions, nursing is ironically often considered to be a mainly female job (weren’t girls supposed to be weak and less strong than boys?). The number of male nurses in Scotland at a low, as they account for just 10% of the country’s nursing population. A report by NHS Scotland also found that these numbers have hardly increased in the last ten years. So, what is it like being a man entering a female-dominated profession? For Ian, his experiences has been mostly positive.

“The [worst things] that happens is that some females will request a female nurse for personal care, but I’ve not had that often. In the bank shifts I do just now, I’m caring for someone who hates males, but I’m okay to go and help with personal care because she knows who I am, and she knows what I’m like.

“Also, I have been working inwards with lots of elderly people, and they instantly ask, ‘are you gay?’, I always find that funny,” Ian adds.

Both Emma and Ian agree that bringing some testosterone into a ward is a positive thing. Not only could it help smooth down the occasional bumps amongst female counterparts when they disagree, many patients also enjoy hanging onto the arm of a man. Emma says:

“There was a time when I was looking after a man with dementia and he just wouldn’t listen to me at all, I don’t know if it was because I was a young woman. And there was an older male nurse that came along, and he listened to him and went with him instantly. So, I think that sometimes a male can be good for male patients, in getting through to them.”

Another issue nurses face in their profession is aggression from patients, and both Ian and Emma agree that having a man there could help people feel safer. Some may think this undermines the work of a female nurse, that women aren’t as equipped to handle the physical challenges that can present themselves. However, listening to their stories, it is clear that mixing it up in the gender department does not, in turn, decrease the hardships of being a student nurse

Some things, like Edinburgh’s stifling, rent prices, don’t discriminate based on gender. Ian and Emma both kept their part-time job while on placements, sometimes finishing a shift at the hospital and going straight into another shift.

Ian says: “When I was on my community placement in the summer, I worked 13 days in a row then had a day off, then repeated this for the month I had my placement, which was just too much.”

Emma and Ian may belong to different sexes, but their testaments of memories reveal that one’s ability to bond with a patient knows no boundaries.

Emma tells me: “Getting into nursing got me into community care job. I don’t do it anymore because I’ve got another job for now. There is a lady that I don’t care for now, but I still go and visit her. I just look out for her, to me that’s really positive, we get on really well, we’ve built a friendship through it.”

Ian has a similar  relationship with an elderly patient who he looked after on both of his placements.

“She doesn’t have the best memory and the second time, she had gone downhill a little bit. But she was fine and dandy back to her baseline, and I was the only person she could remember, which was quite nice. And she always asked the nurses if Ian could help her get ready.”

The start of this year has seen some improvements in young men applying to nursing jobs, but there’s still a long way to go. A little progress now, however, will hopefully mean a lot of progress in future.

For more articles on NHS staffing troubles, click here.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: