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Tradie to nurse: the men who could help fill the nursing shortfall

With an ageing and growing population, the nursing industry has to try and keep up. The number of RNs needed is expected to hit 330,900 by 2023, up from 279,600 in 2018, leaving a shortfall of 51,300 jobs.

There will also be an estimated 147,000 job openings from nursing turnover and new jobs  and it stands to reason that encouraging more men to the profession would be an important step in filling these gaps.

Nursing is one of the few industries in which women are in the majority – 87.7 per cent of nurses are female according to government figures.

Australian College of Nursing chief executive Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward told the Nine Newspapers last year that: "To attract and retain men to the nursing profession would certainly diversify the workforce and help address this looming shortage."

Ben Jones is one of a number of new nurses hoping to fill that gap.

Aged 36, with a mortgage, a wife and a newborn, Ben decided he needed a change.

In the physically demanding waste management trade he'd worked in since leaving school, he felt stale.

“For some reason I wanted to go to university and see if I was capable,” he said.

“And when my daughter was born, I was in the hospital with my wife and really liked the service that was provided by the nurses and I just thought, 'What an awesome way to contribute to society'. So, for me I saw them and I just said, 'Well, let's try it.”

Financial realities meant Ben couldn’t go straight into a university degree. Instead he chose to study a Diploma of Nursing at TAFE NSW, where he could become an enrolled nurse, continue his studies and be on the road to becoming an RN while working and earning.

“I hadn't studied full-time since 1999 when I finished high school, so I think TAFE New South Wales was a good avenue to take.

“I had completed a couple of other courses with TAFE. I found that the teachers were always helpful and knowledgeable. Probably much more so this time around with the Diploma of Nursing course,” he said.

After more than a decade since leaving school, academic life didn’t come naturally to Ben at first.

“It was difficult. I was expecting it to be hard, but probably not as hard as it was," he said.

“I hadn't studied biology or anatomy and physiology prior to doing the enrolled nursing course. A lot of people in my class were pretty proficient at the biology, even the computer studies and things like that… I just felt like I was clunkier."

But the TAFE system suited Ben. He says that they were understanding of people in his situation and provided him the support and, importantly, the encouragement he needed to carry on.

Another big change was being one of only a few men in the room after years as a tradie.

“I knew that would be the case,” he said. “But I like that nursing is a team. And if you're unsure, so far with my 10 weeks of clinical placement, I've found that nurses as a whole are super willing to share their knowledge and experience and help. And that's something that I didn't anticipate, but I really have embraced.”

As his TAFE graduation looms and a job in Sydney Local Health District at Concord Hospital lined up, Ben is excited.

He eventually hopes to move into the mental health space as he believes his local community needs more help in this area.

He is also looking forward to getting a pay cheque again.

“On a selfish level, I'm looking forward to getting back into paid work and the routine of work, even though it's shift work. I'm looking forward to being able to provide for my family again,” he said.

“And also, I'm looking forward to the next step, which for me will be hopefully university. And I'm looking forward to seeing if I'm capable and if I can better my life in a way that maybe I didn't think was possible up until a few years ago.”

Ben is much happier in general than before. He credits a supportive family and his wife who was able to support him while he studied. He believes that he has brought the problem-solving skills that nursing has taught him back to his family life.

“I'm excited. I think my wife's excited. She's sick of me sitting at home in front of a laptop punching out assignments; she's ready for me to be back at work,” he joked.

“I was stale in my old job and I'm a lot happier now. So, I feel like the immediate payback is I'm contributing more positively to my family.”

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