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Men in nursing aim to knock down barriers

Aspiring male nurses, current nursing students and industry experts gathered in Sydney recently to take part in a discussion about entry barriers to nursing for men.

University of Technology Sydney nursing undergraduate students Jake McDonald and Shak Nadesanathan pitched the idea for the Men in Nursing event to UTS director of postgraduate nursing studies Caleb Ferguson. They aimed to raise awareness about nursing as a rewarding career path for male high school leavers considering a career in health.

Both students began their tertiary studies in a medical science degree, before transferring to nursing. McDonald said not only did he underestimate nursing, they didn’t think about it at all.

It wasn't until he picked up a pamphlet about the field while at university that he realised nursing fulfilled what he wanted to do. “At the time, we thought medical science sounded cool, but once you go through the nursing course and you start to explore and experience nursing, you think, 'Well, this is actually really practical – it’s useful.' ”

He said Men in Nursing highlighted that it was possible to expand on a nursing degree and continue studying. "I never want to stop learning and nursing just gives you that practicality to keep on going, keep on learning and keep caring for people and helping people," he said.

Prior to the event, the duo, along with Ferguson, discussed men in nursing on UTS co-owned community radio station 2SER. McDonald said many men don’t see nursing as a career for them during high school because it has always been talked about as a woman’s job.

Through research conducted with Western Sydney University in 2012–13, Ferguson looked into the depictions of male nurses on television. “We found that TV series like Private Practice reinforced stereotypes of male nurses: being a med school dropout, a doctor’s handmaiden, a kind of feminine, homosexual character or a prop minority character with a bit of humour added to it," he said. "There weren’t many accurate portrayals in the TV series we looked at. There’s a real need to show men in nursing as skilled professionals, equal to their female counterparts.”

Nadesanathan said: "Once you get to university, you realise that in any career, your gender doesn’t matter. Nursing is great. There are a lot of fields to explore and we have the clinical placements to find out what areas we’re most interested in.”

UTS also revealed that while only 1 in 10 Australian nurses are male, men account for 1 in 5 enrolments in the university’s bachelor of nursing degree.

Ferguson said he hoped the event highlighted for more people what a fulfilling profession nursing could be. The session brought together three high-profile panellists to discuss experiences in nursing in Australia and other parts of the world, including educational consultant Paul Rutten, from the Northern Sydney Local Health District, Wayne Varndell, a clinical nurse consultant at Prince of Wales Hospital emergency department, and Mark Kearin, from the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association.

Kearin has worked as a registered nurse for 35 years. He said he felt at home when he first walked into a cardiac ward. He then applied for any hospital he could find to become a nurse, but five out of the seven hospitals he approached didn’t take males at the time. He was accepted by his local hospital at Gosford in 1978.

Kearin said: “Six weeks after I started, my mother told me, ‘You’re shining – you’ve made the right choice.’ ”

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