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Men in nursing: how to reach this untapped staffing resource

As nursing shortages continue at a domestic and global level, women still vastly outstrip men in the UK nursing student cohort as well as the nurse workforce – but does that matter?
Community nurse who is a man chats to patient during a home visit

As nursing shortages continue at a domestic and global level, women still vastly outstrip men in the UK nursing student cohort as well as the nurse workforce – but does that matter?

This article was updated on 12 May 2022 with the addition of a comment by England’s deputy chief nursing officer

Men are a vast ‘untapped resource’ that could help tackle the staffing crisis and improve patient care, according to university leaders.

While World Health Organization figures show the workforce in countries such as Mozambique and Iraq are evenly split between male and female nurses, in the UK just 11% of the workforce are men.

Figures from the Universities and College Admissions Service show just

As nursing shortages continue at a domestic and global level, women still vastly outstrip men in the UK nursing student cohort as well as the nurse workforce – but does that matter?

Community nurse who is a man chats to patient during a home visit
Picture: iStock

This article was updated on 12 May 2022 with the addition of a comment by England’s deputy chief nursing officer

Men are a vast ‘untapped resource’ that could help tackle the staffing crisis and improve patient care, according to university leaders.

While World Health Organization figures show the workforce in countries such as Mozambique and Iraq are evenly split between male and female nurses, in the UK just 11% of the workforce are men.

Figures from the Universities and College Admissions Service show just 3,385 men were accepted on to nursing courses in 2021, compared to 34,320 women. More than a third of male applicants were aged 35 or over.

Under-representation of men in the profession

The University of Bradford’s head of nursing and healthcare Emmanuel Idowu said it is time to change entrenched views about nursing to recruit more men.

‘This is a dramatically under-represented group, but it is important to have men in nursing, for the simple reason that, sometimes if you have male patients, they might want to be treated by a man,’ he said.

Campaigning to recruit men to nursing panders to bogus concerns

Royal College of Surgeons Ireland’s operational lead for nursing and midwifery advancement Paul Mahon told Nursing Standard that supporting more men into the profession could help tackle the world’s 13.5 million nurse shortage.

‘The world is facing a critical shortage of nurses. Male nurses are a largely untapped resource,’ he stated.

He said everything that can be done to ‘attract, train, recruit, retain and upskill nurses of any gender is of critical importance’.

Stigma and stereotypes

But the stereotypes are not easily broken, and some students say the stigma of men in nursing is hard to overcome.

Nursing student Gareth told Nursing Standard: ‘My friends and family were supportive, but near enough every other student at my university asked me why I did nursing instead of medicine, or believe it or not, something more “manly”’.

‘It’s from the patients too – even though I wear a badge saying ‘nurse’ I get called doctor all the time.’

England’s deputy chief nurse Duncan Barton said: ‘Ensuring our workforce reflects the entire population is key, this includes recruiting more men to the profession and getting more young people, including boys, to think about nursing from an early age. This is why NHS England and NHS Improvement has been working with schools to promote nursing.’

Campaign to recruit men to nursing careers

With men making up just 4% of their nursing students in 2019, Coventry University devised its Health-Pro campaign in a bid to break down gender stereotypes.

The two-year social media campaign featured YouTube videos of career changers, including a former personal trainer who became a nurse.

‘What appeals to them are things like leadership, career trajectory, technology, being out and about and teamwork, as well as the capacity to care,’ Coventry University’s associate head of recruitment for the school of nursing, midwifery and health Sarah Roe told Nursing Standard.

‘These are all things abundant in a nursing career, but it’s about communicating that and showing men that they have these transferable skills to offer as a nurse.’

This article was originally published on 11 May 2022

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