Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Metal Nurse Spaketh: Not a male nurse, but a nurse.

This is a subject that I have been dwelling on a lot longer than I meant to. It is a subject that I tend to not focus terribly much on, if only because I have been doing my best to ignore it. This is one of the very few times where my political hat will dip into the equality pool. It concerns the male-female divide in nursing.

I've been working in the healthcare since September 2000. And on the whole I have probably always been part of the minority. When I started in Iceland I spent the next 3 years being pretty much the only guy working with all these women, there were couple of blokes who came and went but I stayed for about 3 years. And loved it. There were couple of times that I was a bit taken aback with my job, in terms of sly sexism. One question that was asked on a very frequent basis was "Do you not want to be a doctor?". The answer then and the answer since has been No. Why? Well, mainly I looked about my GP there who was on-call pretty much 24/7, had around 2000 people on his case-load and covered an area that would take around 3-4 hours to drive around. Plus I'm academically lazy. Still am. I love learning, I'm just not a big fan of going to school and doing my learning there. Though I do appreciate the value that universities have to education. The other was of course that outside of it I did get comments on that I as a man shouldn't be working as a carer let alone as a nurse. It was a woman's job, like child-rearing. And at 17 going onto 18 I was rather shocked and insulted with that statement. So I suppose in some small way I decided to become a nurse out of defiance, but mainly what did struck me was how much a difference a nurse can make in someone's life, that is what struck a chord with me.

When I moved to the UK, I came across this slightly odd policy that a lot of care homes and it would appear quite a few hospitals seemed to have, I can't say for certain that this policy still lives on but I do still come across nurses who go by it. But I don't think it was ever actually written down. This policy would run along the lines of:

Two male carers should never work together.
That in a nutshell. It still goes on. Not as much, but it is still there. Generally it applies to something like two male carers are not allowed to work together when taking care of a female patient, but on the flip side two female carers are okay to take care of a male patient. Because this is a woman's profession and the men should just take it, but women shouldn't have to feel the embarrassment of having two male carers. It is a ridiculous rule and is still held steadfastly by nurses who have been working for a long time, generally but of course as always there are exceptions. Because sometimes beliefs that have been consolidated and congealed for so many years can be hard to get rid of.

There is a serious shortage of male carers let alone male nurses. In Iceland only 2% of nurses are men and this year 4 men applied to go into nursing in Iceland. As progressive Iceland can sometimes appear they are still a little backwards in the way they think regarding male/female roles. In the US it is 6.6% and in the UK, my adopted home, it is a little better around 10-11% of nurses are men. And it has stayed that way for the past few years. Which also means that my cohort is very unusual in that me and my two fellow male students represent a whooping 17%. But it does seem to be a fairly universal thing that being a nurse is a woman's role. And doctors should be men. Even for doctors this is a pretty big misconception. According to the GMC in the UK, 44.9% of all medical practitioners are female. 50.5% of GP's are female. Though in the US 32% of physicians are female.

Anecdotally I've seen a slight increase in male nurses. Especially where I've been working. But generally if a bloke enrolls into a nursing course they tend to go into mental health, because mental health historically could be seen as slightly more manly because of all the perceived aggression that a lot of people seem to think is involved in mental health and often the men who were hired would be built like rugby players. But if a man would go into general health they have the tendency to work in ED, ICU/ITU and CCU. Because that is where the action is perceived to be at or technical stuff or where heavy lifting is needed. But again this is anecdotally.

Personally speaking, I had never really put that much thought into the gender divide. But since starting my course I have come across a little resistance to me being a male working in a predominantly female environment. Often I've had people shout "Hey you're a man, come and help us move this patient/object!", not that I mind so much, but often I've been used more for physical work. Often for I have been mistaken as a doctor, which can be flattering until they ask me to do stuff, like prescriptions, or to make a diagnosis, that is always awkward....

I do find that it helps sometimes being male, often purely because of my gender I can strike a rapport with female patients that other nurses can't. Why? Well often female patients feel lonely and are glad to have some male attention, not that I go into work with the view to chat up female patients. It is most often done with good sense of humour, which makes a dry, boring, cold hospital stay just that little bit more bearable. Male patients are often also glad to have a male nurse about, especially the younger male patients who have a more... personal problem. Sometimes it's also about being able to discuss things like football (soccer), beer and why I didn't become a doctor (groan).
The two misconceptions I have come across, but only one of them on a personal level are:
  • All male nurses are gay.
  • And if they're not, then they are womanizers.
I am not the former and I don't think of myself as the latter. But I remember having a discussion with one of my mentors about this and he told me when he first started working as a nurse the manager had asked him, after moaning loudly about his gender "So you're a male nurse. So what are you gay or lazy?".

The first misconception mainly comes from the fact that, again, nursing is seen as a female occupation. And if you're a bloke who is a nurse then you must also be more feminine. And the second one is because if you are not gay, then surely you must be straighter than John Wayne because it is mainly a female occupation. So you are essentially like a kid in a sweet shop.

Thankfully, I have not personally experienced a LOT of sexism. There have been moments. The moment that sticks mostly in my mind is when an older colleague said to me "Don't be like the other male nurses, lazy and not do any manual work." This comment was directed at me because I left a bed unmade in order to take care of a patient who was asking for help. Now I am not sure about other people, but I would rather have a nurse who looks after a patient rather than make the bed. What I have often found awkward has been the work banter. There have been many occasions where I've listened to women at work talk about, well lets call it raunchy stuff, and often I've thought "What would happen if I said any of those things?". But I feel like the biggest example of sexism in nursing is when I am referred to as the male nurse. Yes, I am male but my profession is as a nurse, not a male nurse. When I am working as a nurse I don’t introduce myself as a male nurse. Just like I wouldn’t identify a doctor as a female doctor. My gender is not and should not be the identifying quality of my profession.

Is there a gender divide in nursing? Definitely, though it is not as evident maybe as in other professions. Men in nursing tend to climb the promotional ladder quicker and like most professions men tend to earn more. There can be a few reasons for this. And that is something for a whole different article. The two reasons I have heard and talked about before are that men tend to be more career oriented and men don't get pregnant, hence don't have as much time off. I am not going to deny it and I am not going to condone it. But on the other hand male nurses are more likely to be reported for misconduct than female nurses. Up to four times more likely. Now, I might be overstating it a little bit. But if that happened in any other industry there would be hell to pay.

I'd like to see more guys doing this work, it is an extremely fulfilling job, I don’t think there is a better feeling than knowing that you’ve done well for patient, that you have made difference in someone's life.  Do I identify myself as a male nurse, no I don't. I am a nurse. I take care of people. I assist with their medication, I work towards making sure that patients can get back to their optimum health. In short, I nurse people. Yes, I am male but when I am working I am a nurse. I did for a little bit play with the phrase Murse, but that's a purse for men. I am not one of those. When all's said and done I am a nurse, the fact that I'm a guy has nothing to do with my nursing skills. I am proud to be a nurse. I am proud to be directly involved in my patients care. That is my job. I don't think I’ve got some extra advantage because of my gender, I will always do my best to work hard for the good of my patients.  

I am not a male nurse, I am a nurse.

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