Posted on 09 September 2022

​Nursing has long been perceived as a profession mainly concerning a large amount of female workers, despite long calls for more men to enter the field. With men now entering the field as well, males still only make up 11% of current, qualified nurses in the UK. In western countries as a whole, the number of male nurses rarely tips 1 in 10 active nurses. With the deficit of nurses across the country increasing to record levels, there may be an angle for UK health to appeal to men to transition to the field and apply to university courses. Some of the reason that men may be reluctant to take up the career is because of gender based, societal stereotypes which often perceive nursing staff as women and a caring role as a female function.

There's been a drop in student nurse course applications based on last year, but still a 10% increase from 2020 figures. The real increase, though, has been in male applications, which are up 53% over 4 years. Perhaps this could be suggested as a way to solve the staff shortage, to appeal to more men. Out of 52,150 students enrolling this month, only 6,570 of them are men, enforcing the still maintained deficit of men in the field. By the year 2024, there will be a deficit of 50,000 nursing vacancies with hospitals pushed to the brink of coping, and failings in care home care because of the lack of staff and resources. An angle to reduce this deficit is to appeal to more men, but there are barriers of social perception, dogma and stigma around gender roles in healthcare jobs.

A recent report published in Nursing Times claimed that gender stereotypes were “the major factor deterring male students from considering nursing” and made several recommendations on recruitment targets. The report stated that universities and colleges should “set targets and develop initiatives to increase male participation in nursing” and that “Admissions staff interviewed for this research were broadly committed to increasing male participation in healthcare careers”. Another report from a paper observing nursing students perception of gender roles, Mirko Prosen writes, “However, female nurses must also deal with their own challenges related with gender roles within a health system entailing patriarchy and male dominance/female subordinated relationships that dictate their professional role and affect professionalisation of nursing”.

Plymouth university recently noted that they had experienced a surge in young male nursing applicants following NHS England's 'We Are The NHS' 2019 campaign, whereby a 50% increase in 18-year-old men applying to the course was seen. In their press release, Plymouth stated, “It is time that we grasped the nettle and busted the myth that nursing is only a career for women. The medical profession gender imbalance has changed in recent times, so it is time that the gender imbalance within nursing followed suit”.

The social barriers to entry for men shaped by discourse and stereotypes of gender based roles in healthcare may be an even bigger hurdle to jump and is likely to remain for a long time. The difficulty may not be recruiting men for student nursing courses, but more that men themselves may not perceive nursing to be a field they are welcome in. Of course, many men become student nurses and bring a perspective to patient care, and many men are current nurses, but discourse and the societal environment are surely bigger hurdles to desire to apply as opposed to pay or recruitment. 

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