UK: A shortage of nurses calls for the recruiting of more men

-Coventry University is offering male nursing students a new £3,000 ($3,800) stipend to encourage men to choose Nursing

“ONE reason I can do stand-up comedy is because of all the material I have from being a male nurse,” says Adrian Matei. False stereotypes about nursing make for good jokes. But they may also put men off the job. Just under 11% of nurses registered in Britain are male, a share that has been steady for over four decades after climbing from 1% in the 1950s.

At a conference in May of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the profession’s union, David Ferran, a nurse in Belfast, proposed a campaign to promote nursing to men. His motion did not pass, as the view was that nursing should be pitched to anyone with the right skills, regardless of gender. Undeterred, Mr Ferran started a group, Northern Ireland Men in Nursing, which visits schools to promote nursing as a career for men. Similar groups are being set up elsewhere. Several universities have launched social-media blitzes to draw men into nursing programmes. Coventry University is offering male nursing students a new £3,000 ($3,800) stipend.

Britain is not an exception in having relatively few male nurses. But with a growing shortage of nurses across the National Health Service (NHS), attracting men is becoming more urgent. In 2017, for the first time in a decade, more nurses left the profession than joined. Applications to nursing programmes are down by a third since 2016. And the shadow of Brexit makes it tougher for the NHS to fill its 40,000-odd nurse vacancies from abroad. Doubts about whether they will be able to stay dissuade nurses from EU countries.

Last month the NHS launched its biggest-ever nurse recruitment campaign. TV advertisements show them in action in hospital wards and ambulances, and on home visits. Some are male—an improvement from previous campaigns, but not enough to draw men in, reckons Mr Ferran. Paul Vaughan from NHS England, who leads an initiative to change perceptions of nursing and midwifery, thinks recruitment should avoid playing to gender stereotypes. He takes a dim view of slogans like “Are you man enough to be a nurse?”, used in an American campaign.

Views of nursing as a “woman’s job” have deep roots. Florence Nightingale, who established the principles of modern nursing in the 1860s, insisted that men’s rough hands were “not fitted to touch, bathe and dress wounded limbs”. The RCN did not even admit men as members until 1960. Outdated titles such as “sister” and “matron” (used for men as well) do not help. Mr Ferran says some patients are surprised when he shows up, because they thought only women could be nurses.

Boys do not see nursing as a career because they lack role models. In films, female nurses are cast as helpers of heroic male doctors. (In reality, nurses are the first responders when a patient is in crisis.) “If I had a pound for every time I’ve been called doctor,” says Richard Dowell, a third-year nursing student. When he does ward rounds with his nurse mentor and she asks questions, patients often turn to him to respond, says Mr Dowell.

Unsurprisingly, just two-fifths of British parents say they would be proud if their son became a nurse. Men who go into nursing usually follow in the footsteps of a parent or realise that it could be a career after seeing a male nurse care for a relative. Mr Vaughan’s team at the NHS is trying to boost the prestige of nursing by highlighting that it is a professional job in which careers can be made, that it includes specialisms such as cardiology or intensive care, and that it has a use for skills in technology, innovation and leadership. Most young people also do not realise that the job can take them round the world.

For men, there is another bonus. According to a study of more than 20,000 advanced nurse practitioners by Alison Leary of London South Bank University, men reach the seventh band (a mid-career level) four years sooner than women—partly because women are twice as likely as men to work part-time and are more likely to accept a lower band to secure a job they really want. When Mr Dowell started his nursing studies, he was promised: “You’ll go further because you are a man.”
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