Analysis

Addressing the gender imbalance in nursing

The decision to offer a £1,000-a-year bursary to male nursing students at Coventry University was met with mixed reactions from Nursing Standard readers. But when only one in ten applicants to nursing courses are men, how can the gender imbalance in nursing be addressed?

The decision to offer a £1,000-a-year bursary to male nursing students at Coventry University was met with mixed reactions from Nursing Standard readers. But when only one in ten applicants to nursing courses are men, how can the gender imbalance in nursing be addressed?

Nursing has always been a female-dominated profession.

male

Picture: Alamy

While applications from men for nursing courses have risen significantly over the past decade, there is some way to go before the profession achieves anywhere near gender parity.

The latest figures show that UK universities recieved 210,950 applications from women and 23,810 from men to study nursing in 2016.

Of those, 26,085 women and 2,805 men were accepted, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Applications by men to join nursing courses have risen significantly in the past decade – in 2007 applications made by men totalled 3,320, and just 405 were accepted.

Combatting inequality

11.4%

of the UK nursing workforce is male

One institution trying to redress the balance is Coventry University, which last month announced it will offer 10 men bursaries worth £1,000 a year for degree courses in nursing, midwifery and allied health professions. The ten successful applicants will start in September next year.

The university believes the bursary, funded by the National Express Foundation, is one of the first created for men taking nursing and healthcare courses in UK higher education.

‘This is positive action, not positive discrimination… Aspirations should not be limited because of gender’

Guy Daly

Coventry University pro vice chancellor Guy Daly, who is executive dean of the faculty of health and life sciences, says: ‘The demographics in nursing haven’t really changed since I trained as a nurse in the 1980s.

‘We, like many organisations, want to provide opportunities to combat inequalities. We have already done that with women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

23,810

men applied to study nursing in the UK in 2016, compared with 210,950 women

‘We felt we should try and do the same for nursing and the allied health professions courses, where there is an under-representation of men.

‘You will always get people who don’t agree with positive action – and this is positive action, not positive discrimination. We want to get to a stage where all professions are representative of the demographic of the country as a whole. This is one way of trying to do it. Aspirations should not be limited because of gender.’

Jason Warriner is clinical services director at The Sussex Beacon, which provides specialist care and support for people with HIV, and has been a nurse for 27 years. Chair of the RCN public health forum and a former chair of RCN congress, he was appointed to the prime minister’s nursing and care quality forum in 2012.

‘Tokenism’

Mr Warriner says he has reservations about the approach by Coventry University: ‘This could be seen as tokenism and undermine nursing as a profession. Further work needs to take place to ensure that nursing is seen as a career choice for both men and women and that money is not wasted on one-off schemes.

‘The key part of any recruitment and selection process is ensuring it is open, transparent and does not discriminate against any applicants. It is reassuring to see a significant number of men applying to become nurses. Further work may be required to see why a number of applications were unsuccessful, to look at how nursing can be seen as a positive career choice for men.’

‘We need to challenge the outdated images and stereotypes of nursing, which often act as a barrier to recruitment’

Janet Davies

Queen’s University Belfast has looked at ways to recruit more men into nursing in Northern Ireland, and a campaign including promotion of the profession at boys’ schools has helped increase the proportion of male nursing students there to 10% of the total in the past three years, up from 6%.

Role models

RCN general secretary Janet Davies says diversity is essential for any profession to flourish.

She says raising awareness of what contemporary nursing entails, and the wide choice of careers nursing offers, is an important step.

‘We need to challenge the outdated images and stereotypes of nursing, which often act as a barrier to recruitment,’ she adds. ‘We need to educate schoolchildren about nursing as a career and promote positive role models in the media.

£1,000

the annual bursary offered to 10 men by Coventry University

‘In a lot of cases, it’s not that men turn away from nursing, it’s that they don’t consider it in the first place. That’s where work really needs to be done. We must make it clear that nursing is a great career choice for men, and help them to prepare for a career in nursing.’

Coventry University’s Mr Daly adds that there could be a wider recruitment strategy to reach out to men, and the university may consider working in partnership with NHS trusts in the future.

‘The publicity around the bursary has already been significant,’ he says. ‘If it goes some way to encourage men to enter nursing then that is fantastic.’

Readers have their say on Nursing Standard’s Facebook page

Kristofer Craig: ‘As a male nurse who has just finished their training (with the Scottish bursary), this is insulting. I would find it embarrassing knowing I am receiving a bursary which few of my colleagues would be receiving.’

Michael Coram: ‘We should not be bribing men into nursing. We should be fighting to reinstate the bursary for all healthcare students and be looking at the issues around gender stereotyping and perceptions relating to occupations.’

James Lancley: ‘It’s an assistance grant to help a hugely underrepresented group within the nursing field, something that… can only be good for patient care in the long run. Similar grants have been available to women entering male-dominated professions for a long time now, with nowhere near this level of gnashing of teeth.’

Rebecca Angela: ‘If the nursing salary was better more men would enter the profession. I don’t believe this will make any difference whatsoever.’


Join the debate at facebook.com/NursingStandardJournal

 

 

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs