Nigerian Male Nurses, Student Nurses Relive Stereotype Encounter with Patients

Decked in a sparkling lab coat, Nurudeen Ajani recalled with sadness the event that led him into nursing. He noted that it was a day he hated to recollect, adding that he thought his world had collapsed when the incident occurred.

Ajani, who intermittently dabbed the tears that had formed a ring below his brows, said, “When my mother was to give birth to the third child, she was rushed to the nearest hospital in the neighbourhood. She was in labour pains and needed an urgent medical attention. That was why she was rushed to the nearest hospital.”

He stated that he eventually lost his mother in the process because the medical services she got were below standard.

“If she was attended to by professionals, she might have survived. That was when I decided that I was going to be a nurse,” said Ajani, a 300 level student of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Idi-Araba, as tears welled up in his eyes.

Ajani further said he chose nursing over medicine because nurses usually gave the real care to patients.

He added, “I wanted to do something different. Medicine is often believed to be for men while nursing is for women. I wanted to change the trend and that made me choose nursing. They are the ones who administer treatments and have more contact with patients. I chose the course because of my love to serve humanity.”

The student nurse explained that it had been lovely studying among females, stating that sometimes it could be frustrating.

We’ve had our share of stereotypes —Male nurses

Stereotype most times, leading to discrimination, is common for male nursing students. Some student and practising nurses have undoubtedly suffered from it.

Ajani told SUNDAY PUNCH that it had been a bittersweet experience for him though he was optimistic that he would do well as a nurse because it was a career he passionately chose.

He stated, “Some of the challenges I have faced are discouraging comments from people.  Someone once told me that I am studying a course that will later turn me into an errand boy in the hospital when I start practising.  Another person told me that I can’t take decisions on my own even as a professional because I have to wait for doctors before taking any step. Such comments are usually demeaning, but I look beyond all and face my profession squarely.”

Another student, Chinedu Uwandu, who is a year-three nursing student, told our correspondent that he had experienced several cases of stereotyping that made him feel bad. He said however that he had become used to them.

Uwandu stated, “In our early days in the university, especially in 100 level, we always had people say very funny things to us. They make jest of us and all that but now, I think people have come to accept that we now have male nursing students and it is not a profession peculiar to women. Since we were moved to the College of Medicine, all that has stopped.”

For Ayokunnumi Dada, who is a 400-level nursing student, it is the belief of some people outside the department that all the male nursing students, are imbued with same physical strength as females. The nursing student noted that the belief was so rampant that they tended to exclude them from physical inter-departmental activities.

He said, “It was very tough for us as male nursing students in the beginning especially when we were in the main campus. Students from other departments look at our department as ladies’ department. When there are activities at departmental levels where they need men to be involved, we are often sidelined especially because of our number.

“Also, they believe we are like girls and won’t have strength like men. Whenever there are activities involving physical strength, they don’t bother inviting us for such activities.’’

Quoting Dottie Roberts, a nursing instructor at the South University, Columbia, on a health website, Diversity,  he faulted the way males in nursing were referred to as ‘male nurses.’

Roberts contended that since a woman in the profession wasn’t referred to as a ‘female nurse’, using the term ‘male nurse’ implied that the professional was being differentiated from others in the field.

On his part, a nursing student at the Lagos State University College of Medicine, Olawale Badewa, told SUNDAY PUNCH that he had experienced embarrassing moments many times. He said one of the experiences that stuck with him like a leech on its host was the day he was embarrassed by a library attendant.

Badewa told our correspondent, “It was during my 100 level days. The attendant asked me to go back because I looked like a woman in my library card. The attendant was even saying that my course was feminine. I exerted all my energy that day trying to prove that I was a male before I was allowed to use the library. It was really an embarrassing day for me.”

Combating stereotypes, misconceptions

Uwandu told SUNDAY PUNCH that he developed a likeness for the profession because of his mother who is a retired nurse. He explained that as a child, seeing his mother on her uniform and the way she attended to patients cemented his decision to end up as a nurse.

He said, “Also, I like the idea of a male nurse. I like to stand out and that was one of the reasons why I chose nursing. I just love the profession and that is why everything that tends to discourage me has been unable to do so.”

Uwandu told our correspondent that one of the ways he fought stereotypes associated with his profession was by being serious and showing academic prowess.

“It takes a lot of seriousness for five of us to cope in a class of 44 students. Through our performances, we showed them that we are serious and in for a purpose,” recalls the nursing student with delight.

“Our female course mates have come to respect us for that. They don’t see us as being weak or unserious. In fact, most of the time, they prefer that we take decisions on their behalf.

“I don’t feel out of place although our female colleagues can be annoying sometimes. They listen to us more than their co-females. Sometimes when we don’t agree on some things; we try as much as possible to reach a compromise.”

He however noted that generally, their female colleagues were cooperating as they had become free with them and a source of encouragement.

Dada told SUNDAY PUNCH that he didn’t plan to study nursing but had to settle for it after he couldn’t meet up with the cut-off mark for medicine.

Saying he enjoyed the course now that he had seen what it was all about, he added, “It was initially interesting to me, but it’s something I was forced to love. I like the course for its soft side; I believe every course has its soft part. It is the feeling now.”

He stated that he overcame stereotypes in the profession by taking up leadership positions to prove that they were up to the task. According to him, many of his male mates hold one political office or another in the department.

Dada added, “For example, I am the president of the department while my friend is the spokesperson for the school’s student union. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t be looked down on. Although there are many women in the department, I refused to be in the shadow of anyone. I also took up the position of the course representative. The females prefer someone in authority to make the decision for them. I do that often.”

Badewa, who embraced nursing by chance like Dada, said he had come to love the course tremendously.

He also wanted to study medicine but since he was offered nursing as a ‘compensation’ course, he had no choice but to give it his all. “To me, nursing is the profession where I can really communicate with my patients while attending to them,” he stated.

Badewa said confidence had helped him to overcome stereotypes in a class of six males and 17 females. According to him, outside the class, confidence is one element he needs in order for people not to demean him.

He said, “If you like what you’re doing, you will be very confident in it because you know the worth. Most times, when people ask me about what I do? I am always very confident about saying it. I don’t give room for timidity at all.

“I tell them I am studying B.Sc Nursing Science. Whenever they hear that, they give me kudos. But for those who don’t know what it is all about, I do not hesitate to educate them.”

‘Patients mistake us for doctors’

Some of them are also conscious of what awaits them outside the medical college. Dada said though nursing was a lucrative profession, the public viewed it otherwise.

He said, “They see us as quacks and mostly as being in a female profession. I am currently doing my practice at a hospital and the patient will always refer to us as doctors. We often try to correct that notion that we are not doctors and the process of convincing them is often very difficult. In fact, we sometimes fight about it.

“It has a way of affecting our work productivity because it is tiring doing the work of a nurse and someone will be referring to me as a doctor. The person will do that because he or she believes that I should be a doctor and not a nurse because I am a man.”

He said such development could adversely affect them, adding that he might not be able to handle the pressure of practising the profession.

Dada said, “It is one task that I am trying to overcome. In fact, I consider studying medicine.’’

He stated that considering the economic implication of being a nurse, he sometimes wanted to have a rethink.

“Nurses are not often paid for the volume of job they do. They often try to do some side jobs to be able to meet up with financial demands and responsibilities, especially for married men.

“I already have the mentality that we cannot be well paid as male nurses to cater for our family needs; so, I have been looking for what job to do in order to augment things if eventually I practise,” Dada stated.

Also, Badewa also corroborated Dada’s claim that most patients mistook them for doctors.

He stressed that he was scared of practising in Nigeria because nurses were not valued like they were in other countries.

Badewa said, “Also, the private health care system doesn’t employ professional nurses to practise; instead, they employ auxiliary nurses who didn’t go through medical education or field practices.

A practising nurse, Quadri Yakub, said it was initially tough for him when he started working as a nurse. He stated, “Patients referred to me as a doctor. I and my colleagues spent the most part of our day trying to explain that we are nurses and a male can be a nurse.”

‘We are health professionals, not male nurses’

It is known that a large percentage of nurses are females and often, nursing is represented by a female icon which makes the stereotype stronger.

There is even a cheeky sticker for nurses, ‘Nurses are beautiful’, impressively denoting the practitioners as females.

A midwife, Sanni Michael, said he usually got a look and questions relating to why he is a nurse. He stated that over time, he was able to convince his interrogators that nurses were professional medical workers regardless of gender.

Sanni, who also practises as a nurse, told SUNDAY PUNCH, “Whenever I tell people that I am a male nurse, it is often very funny to them. But once I explain the whole idea to them, they are often cool about it.”

On how he attends to female patients especially, Sanni said he always made them feel the need for his services, stating that if anyone snubbed his help, he would take his leave as patients could not be forced to receive care.

Sanni added, “I make them see me as the person who can help them. During my training days, my clinical instructor helped a lot in the past. Whenever they became reluctant, she told them that if the male nurses could not handle it, no one else would. Even when they are reluctant at first, they have no choice but to allow the male nurse attend to them.”

According to him, the situation has helped boost his confidence to the extent that no patient can reject male nurses because the patient only has to decide if she wants medical care or not.

As a midwife, Sanni said labour-room experience was normal for him as a professional, stating that he often didn’t get emotional like his female colleagues.

He said, “I enter the labour room often and so far, there have been no negative reactions from the women. I am a professional and I make them see me from that point of view. We assure them that we are professionals; it is our duty to take care of them.

“Also, there is a notion that male nurses can be flirts. But I deal with a female patient the same way I will deal with a male patient; there is no room for any form of suspicion. We are all professionals and we make them see us as such.”

Yakub said some years after practising, female patients adapted to the idea of male nurses.

For Yakub, the moment he was able to make them realise that there were male nurses, most of his patients especially the females, became comfortable discussing private matters with him.

He said, “After our initial encounters, I discovered that once I win them over, they find it easy to confide in me. In fact, they prefer to talk to me even more than the female nurses. They feel more comfortable with me as a nurse.”

Yakub told SUNDAY PUNCH that he avoided body contact with female patients and ensured there was a female nurse around anytime he was speaking with any of them.

He also faulted claims that health workers were promiscuous, saying people were entitled to their opinion.

The nurse explained that the relationship with his female colleagues didn’t start on a good note at first, but it improved tremendously over time.

Also, Emeka Asagwara, who is a male nurse, said it was fascinating and challenging working as one.

He said, “It is fascinating in the sense that I am always referred to as a doctor by my patients. This is because they can’t imagine a man being a nurse even after I corrected them.”

Asagwara noted that the challenging aspect was from his senior colleagues who were mainly females and wanted him to do their bidding even to his detriment and inconvenience.

“Sometimes the ego thing comes to play at some point. But in the long run, I see patients’ wellness as the goal. I just let it pass,” he said.

Asagwara added that he sometimes found the reactions from female patients as upsetting, so he always avoided the female ward.

“While doing procedures that involve the perineum, I will have to explain what I want to do to them. But if the patient is comfortable with me doing it, I will proceed. But if not, I will just let her be. That does not mean that I am not a professional nurse. I am just respecting the patient’s privacy,” he said.

We avoid body contacts with male nurses –Female patients

A patient in one of the hospitals in Lagos, Esther Adetunji, told SUNDAY PUNCH  that she would only allow a male nurse unknown to her to have physical contact with her especially in cases where injections were to be administered.

She said, “I will do so because if he is someone I know and see often; whenever I see him, I’ll remember the episode. But if I don’t know him, I can be sure we might never meet again. Although I know it is his work but for me, anytime I see him, I’ll be wondering if he is thinking of the episode. Most of the time, whenever I visit the hospital, I usually allow female nurses to attend to me.”

Another patient, Genevieve Ovie, said she wouldn’t mind if a male nurse attended to her provided he had no emotional attachment to her.

She said, “I can allow a male nurse attend to me except if he happens to be someone that has in the past or present, had emotional attachment to me. But if there is an opportunity to choose, I will choose a female nurse. A male nurse has attended to me before but in the presence of a family member.”

Ovie stated that She had no problem with the nurse because She knew he was doing his job, saying She was aware that his qualification made him a nurse and not his gender.

A nurse is a nurse –Lecturer

A lecturer at the Department of Nursing, College of medicine, UNILAG, Mrs. Ogechi Abazie, told SUNDAY PUNCH that there was no difference between a male nurse and a female nurse except the gender.

According to her, all nurses go through the same process of becoming a nurse and they can all carry out procedures.

She said, “A nurse is a nurse. A male nurse is a nurse just like a female; no difference between the two.  Even in school, they are exposed to the same courses and we make them know they are in the right place and they really do well. They are equal in our eyes, no male or female nurses. They are all nurses.

“The major challenge in our society, especially in the North, is because of cultural and religious beliefs, they don’t usually want male nurses to touch their wives and the male also do not like a female nurse attending to them.”

She stated that the best way to tackle the situation was to continually educate the people that saving life was vital than the gender attending to one.

Obazie added, “The only way we can help people is to educate them on the importance of getting themselves treated first before thinking of the gender. Let the person available save you and give you the treatment that you need first. They need to know the importance of saving their life first. If it is an emergency or a person is rushed unconsciously to the hospital, you won’t know who attended to you until you are conscious.

“If it is a male gynaecologist, I don’t think they discriminate against them. I think it’s because people have a mindset that nurses are supposed to be females. This is why we need to continually educate them.”

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