Oct 07, 2016
By Andrew Waddington, RN

Redrawing the nursing identity

Andrew Waddington finds a way to recruit and role model for future generations of men

Nursing as a profession builds credibility by maintaining a modern image and by seeking out the best bright new people. That image needs to represent the population nurses serve and must, therefore, include men. The number of us in the profession has changed only incrementally in the past century. Recent figures place men at less than 10 per cent of the RN workforce in most jurisdictions in Canada. To seek a balanced perspective in the workforce and to maintain a modern image, gender equality needs to be sought. Certainly, many people and groups have made efforts to increase diversity in the workforce, but the stereotype of nursing as a profession for women remains, thanks to the media, pop culture and even our nursing schools.

About a year ago, I was asked to speak to a Grade 1 class as part of a community helper week at an elementary school. I arrived, donned in scrubs and with my stethoscope and penlight. Overall, the visit was exciting, a chance to talk to kids and see their eyes light up with questions about health, how the body works and their experiences with the health-care system. They enjoyed the opportunity to touch the stethoscope and listen to heart and lungs sounds; we pulled some off the Internet for all to hear. I could see their inquisitive minds growing.

A few weeks later, the teacher sent me a thank you package that included artwork some of the kids had created. The drawings showed an unintended consequence of my visit: they realized that men could be nurses, too. One piece I have kept showed what they thought of as the “typical” nurse next to another with more masculine features. Several of the drawings showed this “atypical” presentation of nurses like me. It dawned on me that being present and visible as a man in nursing could be an effective way to challenge stereotypes and implant ideas about future career options.

Six months later, I asked to speak to my daughter’s Grade 1 class. Their response was similar. I was on a roll and started looking for other bookings!

To recast the image of nurses in society and seek gender balance in our profession, men in nursing could be doing more to recruit and role model for future generations, thus breaking down barriers and creating change. I would like to encourage my male colleagues to take the opportunity to lead through advocacy: go to schools and public events, write to newspapers, contribute to blogs and other public forums, telling people what you do. Who knows? The future of nursing could depend on those actions.

Andrew Waddington, RN, has a background in emergency care and working with vulnerable populations. He is a nursing instructor at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alta., and is pursuing a master’s degree.

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