The StN Project

Life as a male student nurse

Why a nurse?

When I first decided to train to be a nurse I had been through a challenging time with my own family, my wife was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 28, but we also lost my mother in law to terminal cancer at the same time. This was enough to change my life forever, not in a negative way but in the most positive way imaginable. As people always say they get this lightbulb moment, this life changing event that is the moment they find a passion or a desire to do something. Mine was in the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, sat in A&E with my wife after she had become ill following chemotherapy. What a weird and whacky place to get that lightbulb moment.

The care given to my wife by the staff at the Royal Berkshire Hospital was superb, it was a daunting prospect for us both having a young family but they helped make the journey as painless as possible. We even threw a spanner in the works when we found out she was pregnant after completing a course of radiotherapy. It really showed the depth of any healthcare professionals role, it not only involves looking after the symptoms of the patient but also being a counsellor, a shoulder to cry on, an advocate, to name just a few of their roles. Seeing this care was an inspiration to me and a true indication that becoming a nurse was where I wanted to be.

Life as a male student nurse…..

It was a daunting prospect starting university at the age of thirty-two, while having a family to think of….my gorgeous wife and my three fantastic (slightly annoying) children. The big thing for me was when my middle daughter turned around to me and said “Daddy…. why are you training to be a nurse? You should be a doctor because you’re a man!” This made me realise that being a nurse through the eyes of a five-year-old is a true stereotype that is not innate but is a learned behaviour. After explaining to her that we can all be what we want to be, (well within reason), this got me thinking. If a five-year-old thinks this…do other people think the same? Do other health professionals agree? What do the patients think?

So, I started The University of West London in September 2015 and walked into my tutor group, eyes wide open taking everything in and……. where are the other males I asked myself, perhaps they had gone to the toilet together, to get some water or were just late. The time ticked on, and on, and on a few weeks and they never did come back with any water and they weren’t in the toilet (I checked). I had 20 plus female students in my tutor group, of all different cultures and backgrounds, but I was still alone. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a sexist rant, I am just shocked that there are still so few males in the nursing profession. One day the door opened and in flooded one new student and yes, he was a male, finally a bit of bromance. It transpired that out of all the students in my cohort, there was only about 10-15 males which is at my estimation about 10-12% of the total intake.

My first year went on and the hard work was paying off, receiving some steady grades, and really enjoying being in the university environment, with what I would like to call my new friends. Then it came to our first placement……oh no, what is it going to be like, am I going to fit in, do I know anything? Probably the questions that run through most student nurse’s heads. To be honest on my first day I was a bag of nerves, hoping I didn’t say anything silly or just become a lumbering oaf. Anyway, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, they were fantastic and made me feel part of the team from day one.

Rolling back to the start, if you remember what my daughter said to me about not being able to be a nurse because I was a man, some of the patients can sometimes imply the same thing. Is this a generation thing or perhaps a culture thing? Why have we got this stereotypical view of job roles, it’s not just nurses but fireman, police, administrators, builders etc. This must start at a grass roots level, and believe me I can remember thinking the same at a young age, these are male jobs and these are female jobs. How my view on the world has changed and how the world has also changed even in the short amount of time I’ve been alive.

On my short journey, I have met some amazing nurses both male and female, but again there are so few males. Why is this? This is a career that is not only rewarding but exciting! How often can you say that you have helped save someone’s life, or helped a loved one through the worst day of their life, or seen someone you have nursed leave hospital back to their normal life. This really got me thinking….then my university friend sent me an article by Darren Aldrich on the Health Careers website highlighting some of the areas that I have spoken about above.

Is there some way that the NHS or the government could help change these stereotypical views on an amazing profession? Walking around hospitals there is a distinct lack of male nurses in any of the literature or the posters throughout the corridors, is this something that could change? Do we need more male advocates to go into schools and talk about nursing as it can be stereotyped as female profession. Or is this ground in to society too deep? I for one don’t want this to be the case, I have seen far too many men who would be fantastic nurses or should consider nursing as a profession slip into another career or stalled in their own career.
With the recent news of cuts to the student nursing bursary and the bad press of where the NHS could be going, I feel this is a prime time to widen the horizons of the nation. Let’s try and use this a positive and start to make a change, whatever way we look at this news the reality is we need nurses both male and female. Let’s attract a new cohort of male nurses and improve on the 11.2% that currently work in the NHS. I’m certainly looking at ways that I can support my university with this and regularly go back to Reading College to talk to access students. I can’t do this alone, it’s a much bigger task and one that will take some time but is so important to the profession, let’s start making a change.

(Andrew Haydon – student nurse) 

One thought on “Life as a male student nurse

  1. Hi Andrew,

    What an insightful personal story, I can certainly empathise with Your situation. I was the only male for the first 2 years of my nursing degree in a group of 28 females.
    There is still a lot that can be done in terms of breaking gender stereotypes and attracting men into healthcare workforce.
    Thank You for sharing Your story,


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