Every male nurse that has ever worked, has heard these words or similar. Some before they even have the chance to graduate!
Some hear it from confused patients who are struggling with the concept that a young, athletic man would do “women’s work” when there are so many “better” options.
Some hear it from colleagues.
Some hear it from family members, perhaps clinging to the faint hope that one of their own will end up with that lovely Dr. before their name and all the glitz and glamour that goes with it.
Sometimes you get it from people you meet at parties and bbqs. I’d be able to afford medical school if I had a dollar for every time this conversation played out:
“So where do you work?”
“Ah.. the hospital.”
“Oh, wonderful – you a doctor?”
“Um, no, just a nurse.”
Just a nurse. Just. A. Nurse.
Such a simple, yet incredible devaluing statement that I know I made many times. Just a nurse: just wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor; just couldn’t eat healthy enough to be a dietician; just didn’t own the right jogging shoes to be a physiotherapist.
Now, calm down angry hordes of physiotherapists and dieticians. At least you got a mention. I didn’t bother with Occupational Therapists or Health Promotion. We’ve all got valuable contributions to make within health care. We are valuable. We are not just anything.
It’s such a simple statement that carries so much weight. Nurses, and particularly men who work as nurses need to start taking ownership of the profession. Be passionate and proud of it. For too long I referred to myself as “just a nurse” or as a “male nurse”.
What the hell is a “male nurse” anyway? Do we have “female nurses”? Why are we differentiating? This term needs to go the way of the “lady doctor” and be thoroughly shown the door! I am a nurse. I happen to be a man. They are not related in anyway. They are not gender exclusive roles. Neither is my marital status, sexuality, how many children I have or what I do on the weekend related to my ability to be a nurse.
Men become nurses for a reason. There are very few that fell in to the profession. You will rarely find a man that wasn’t sure what to do after school so thought they’d try nursing. You wouldn’t take the road of nursing, as a bloke, unless you didn’t at least have a strong desire to. You’d study commerce. Or engineering. Or mechanics. Or surf. Or find some other way of earning money that didn’t involve entering nursing. You wouldn’t enter a female dominated profession where you will have your motives, sexuality and personality so constantly questioned.
I didn’t become a nurse to get through the “back door” of medicine. I didn’t do it to date the nurses in my uni class. I didn’t do it so I could see people naked. I didn’t do it because I am gay. There are much easier ways to do the first three things, and well, again, not sure what nursing and sexuality have in common but that wasn’t involved here. Nurses need to sell their profession when we are asked about.
Nursing is a female dominated profession that has struggled to develop and promote its professional standing. A large part of this is because of gendered expectations, obligations and barriers that are placed in front of the majority of the nursing workforce, often by men in administrative roles or neighbouring professions.
Hospitals and health systems are battle grounds for power and status, and its no surprise the profession with a mainly female workforce struggles to maintain its standing. Its important that men who are nurses champion the role of nurses as professionals and raise the standings of our work – but not at the expense of our female colleagues. We can’t drive nursing up by driving men to the top. Though this is what happens.
I became a nurse to be challenged, to help people, to connect with people on a very human level. I wanted to interact with other human beings, to help them through the moments when they are most vulnerable, scared or alone.
Nursing is such a privileged profession – we see people at their worst and try to help them back to where they want to be. We hold people’s hands as they slowly slip across from this life to the other side. We catch the arrest as it happens and set the wheels in motion – sometimes saving that life, sometimes just missing. We see families come together and see others destruct.
All this happens while surrounded by other amazing professionals who support us, challenge us, annoy us and validate us as professionals.
Nursing is such a fulfilling, challenging and diverse profession that requires dedication, intelligence and diligence – make sure the next person that asks you about it knows that.