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Operation Male Nurse

It's a profession traditionally dominated by women but now Queen's University hopes to attract more men to nursing

By Stephanie Bell

A new drive to redress the centuries-old gender imbalance in nursing is to be launched by Queen's University, Belfast. The huge campaign to encourage more young men to apply for the profession which has been traditionally female-dominated is being driven by a committee at the campus.

Currently just 7% of the 400-plus students in undergraduate nurse education for all fields at Queen's – Adult, Mental Health, Learning Disabilities, and Pediatrics – are men.

It's a figure which the university hopes to change by spelling out to young men the huge potential for career advancement and earnings which nursing has to offer them.

The initiative has been launched by the university's Swan Committee – part of Athena Swan, a national quality charter aimed at furthering and supporting equality and diversity for staff and students in higher education across the UK.

The committee was recently awarded the silver standard for its gender equality initiatives and now aims to go for gold with its campaign to encourage more men into nursing.

Queen's nurse education lecturer Patrick Gallagher (41), who was himself a nurse for 20 years, is a member of the Swan committee.

He says: "We want to try and change the public's perception of nursing as a career for men and one which men tend to do very well in. Women do hold the balance of power and have done for many years yet men seem to hold more managerial positions in the profession, although we don't know why that is.

"It's still seen as a female role and I suspect that's what puts most guys off.

"When we speak to teenagers at careers events young men just aren't interested but they also don't fully understand the great career potential that the job offers.

"There are a wide variety of pathways which they can follow in specialist areas such as A&E, cardiology and surgery which seem to attract more men than other areas, maybe because there is deemed to be more action there."

Qualified nurses enter the profession on pay Band 5 which is a starting salary of between £22,000 and £26,000 a year with lots of opportunity for further training and progression in their careers, if they choose.

That's for a 37-and-a-half-hour week and while it will involve shift work, Patrick Gallagher insists that most areas of the health service do operate family-friendly policies and will accommodate people, allowing them to choose their shifts to suit their family needs.

A major advertising campaign using brochures, pop-up posters and online material featuring pictures of male nurses and outlining the diversity of choice within the profession will soon be launched.

Patrick adds: "In an ideal world we would like it to be 50/50 in terms of gender but we hope to gradually improve the numbers year on year and prove it is a worthwhile job for men as well as women.

"We want to get the message through to the grassroots population. We have always tried to encourage young men to enter the profession and we are now rethinking how we go about that and are giving it more impetus."

Two male student nurses and a qualified male midwife tell us about their experience and why they have chosen this new direction.

Gary: 'I really like being able to help people'

Gary Mitchell (28), from Comber, is studying for a PhD after completing his nursing degree and masters at Queen's. He has also had academic papers published. Gary is married to Claire (27). He says:

The first time I thought about nursing I was doing my English degree at Queen's. I took on extra work to support myself and got a job as a carer in a nursing home. My grandad was a nurse and he was so driven and healthy and fit – a real inspiration to me.

"I always liked the notion of being able to help people and that job exposed me to the world of nursing, which was very new to me.

"When I finished my English degree in 2006 I knew I wanted to pursue a career in nursing and go to the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's but I didn't know if it was feasible for a guy like me to do it as I didn't have a science background.

"I had a meeting at the university and was really encouraged from day one. At that meeting my concerns were really eased and I knew I had found my calling.

"I was selected to study adult nursing starting in February 2007 and I was really proud and excited and honoured. I've worked hard and enjoyed all the placements and found a sense of professional pride at an early stage, which is what I wanted all along.

"In my second year the head of year contacted me to say there was an opportunity to go to the Florence Nightingale Annual Ceremony in London at Westminster Abbey. It was based on my performance and a real honour, which endeared me to the university.

"They have really supported me in growing as a nurse. I graduated in 2010 with a first class honours degree and just wanted to start working as a nurse.

"I spent some time working in a dementia care unit before deciding to do a masters degree because I wanted the extra knowledge to do the best job I could.

"I did modules in dementia care, which was academically very rigorous. I spent a year in a dementia care unit which really benefited me. During my time there I was able to reduce the number of anti-psychotic drugs significantly and we saw brilliant results in the general wellbeing of people.

"For me it wasn't just about qualifications but about being able to make a difference to people.

"I published a few papers on dementia care which I was also able to present at health conferences in Vienna and Dublin, thanks to encouragement from the university staff.

"That was the pinnacle of my career so far as I never thought I would be able to be in a position to reach so many people in the profession.

"I am now working on a PhD – again because of encouragement from the university. I'm really fortunate to be given the chance and after that I'm not sure which path I will take.

"When I was a teenager, nursing was very stereotyped and to be honest it wasn't a career I would have thought about. Seeing my grandad as a nurse and working alongside him as a care assistant showed me that it didn't matter if you are male or female. He inspired me to think about breaking down the barriers and believe that this is something I could do.

"I've found male patients seem to be more comfortable with a male nurse and female colleagues embrace you and try to encourage and integrate you into the team. I've learnt so much and really loved all the clinical practice. There is no limit to what you can do. You can go as far as you want to."

Barry: 'I enjoy going into the hospitals and feeling part of a team'

Boxing club owner Barry Tucker (34), from Newry, ran his own building company until the recession hit and he decided to retrain as a nurse. Barry has a long term partner and two sons, who are both currently Ulster and Irish boxing champions. He says:

I left school at 16 and went straight into the building trade. It was 1998 and there was a lot of money to be made. I had my own company and worked all over the place, including in England. You could make up to £500 a day and most young fellas I knew left school to go into the building tirade.

"I always had an interest in the medical field. I loved watching A&E on TV and had been admitted to hospital myself when I was 25 – I was amazed at what nurses had to do and how brilliant they were.

"When the recession hit in 2008 I went back to college and studied for A-Levels in biology, chemistry and physics with the aim of going into nursing.

"It was tough and when I applied to Queen's to study nursing I was just one of three fellas out of 150 students in adult nursing.

"You don't think of the gender, you just get on with it. I'm also an ex-boxer and I run the St John Bosco Boxing Club in Newry but I've never had any negative comments about training as a nurse; in fact it has all been positive.

"I love the practical side of the course, working in hospitals and being part of it. I enjoy going into the hospitals and feeling part of a team. I've found the female nurses really go out of their way to help you.

"I'm not sure what area I will go into when I graduate next year although I did like trauma.

"What I have found is that nursing is very diverse and there are so many different pathways you can go down and so many areas to specialise in. The opportunities are endless and you can also travel the world when you have your qualification."

Kyle: 'Women don't mind a male midwife'

Kyle Gourley (41), from Bangor, is only one of two men among the 1,300 midwives in Northern Ireland. Kyle retrained after a career in IT. He is married to Amanda (41), a holistic therapist, and they have a son, Luke (2). He says:

I did an accountancy degree at Jordanstown and then a Masters in IT. I worked in IT for various companies for a long time but got fed up sitting at a computer and working 9-5 and wanted a career change.

"I saw the Direct Early Midwifery course at Queen's advertised and decided to apply. It's a three-year course which I started in 2004. I qualified six years ago and started straight away in the midwifery unit in the Ulster Hospital.

"When I told my friends what I was planning to do the stick I got was unreal. Then I found that when their wives and girlfriends started to get pregnant they would ring me for advice, so it has come full circle.

"My main worry about being a man was how the patients would react to me. It actually was a real ice breaker as they would ask what attracted me to the job and we would get chatting.

"They are not at all uncomfortable with having a man in the delivery room. I might get an odd look from some of the fathers at first but then we get talking about football and sport and I have found that they are able to ask me questions which they are maybe too embarrassed to ask a woman.

"As a student and a qualified midwife I found my female colleagues supportive and they always made me feel part of the team. I have never felt left out.

"I love the job. No two days are the same, especially in the delivery suite. You meet a large cross-section of society and you get so much back out of it.

"When my own son was born it gave me an insight into the other side of it and how stressful it can be for dads.

"I think anyone, male or female, considering this profession needs to go into it with their eyes open.

"It can be stressful and the hours are long but it is very rewarding."

Want to join them?

  •  Only 6% of Northern Ireland's nursing workforce is thought to be male.
  • Queen's University offers a Bsc Honours/Diploma in nursing in a number of fields such as adult learning disability and children's.
  • The University of Ulster also offers a Bsc Honours in adult nursing and Learning Disability Nursing.
  • If you are employed as a work assistant or support worker, your employer can sponsor a group of nursing assistants to undertake a part-time diploma in higher education at the Open University in Belfast.
  • For details on the career opportunities and training for nurses got to www.qub.ac.uk.

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