There are currently over 690,000 registered nurses in the UK. In 2017 the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) reported that just 10.8% of registered nurses were men (NMC, 2017). The fact that only 74,580 registered nurses are male means that nursing is one of the most gender-segregated jobs in the United Kingdom. We therefore ask that this meeting of RCN Congress asks Council to develop and promote a strategy to recruit more men into the nursing profession.
The nursing profession in the UK is experiencing a staffing crisis. It is plagued with a never-ending shortage of registered nurses and an inability to fill vacancies across all fields. Why is a profession that provides a huge array of rewarding career opportunities struggling to fill roles and appeal to the masses?
One possible answer is staring us in the face. At a time when society has learned to embrace gender equality, we appear complacent in ignoring a glaringly obvious problem: men are significantly underrepresented in nursing. In fact, figures for the number of men in nursing have barely improved over the past decade. Since 2006 there has been a mere 0.1% rise in the number of men on the NMC register.
Why is this? For men, the road to acceptance as nurses has not been easy. As far back as 1919, the Nurses Act banned men from the General Register and saw them assigned to nursing roles in mental health asylums, because of their perceived ability to physically subdue violent patients.
Public perceptions appear to have changed little over the years. Society perpetuates images that frequently portray and readily accept nursing as a role carried out by women and one that men simply do not fit into.
It is therefore unsurprising that men are deterred from entering the profession and do not view it as an attractive and rewarding career. In recent times, a handful of universities have taken steps to encourage more men into nursing; however, their endeavours need wider support.
In May 2017, the Welsh Government launched the Train, Work, Live campaign, which aimed to increase the recruitment of both male and female nurses to train and work in Wales. Although not specifically aimed at men, the campaign featured male nurses in its promotional materials.
In Scotland, the Government’s Chief Nursing Officer made a recommendation in her Commission on Widening Participation in Nursing and Midwifery Education and Careers (December 2017) to attract men to the professions, with a scoping project to look at best practice in this area and make recommendations for a national approach with realistic targets (Scottish Government, 2017).
The Scottish Funding Council’s Gender Action Plan has set a target for all Scottish colleges and universities that no subject should have a gender balance with more than 75% of one gender by 2030. They have highlighted as a key priority the male underrepresentation in nursing (Scottish Funding Council, 2016).
As a result, the University of Dundee launched a programme last year to promote the field of nursing to men, using the hashtag #mendocare. The programme has included seminars, social media activity and public awareness sessions (McKay, 2017).
We need a sustained, UK-wide, targeted approach, to address the systemic problem of gender stereotyping and misconceptions about who makes a good nurse. The RCN has attempted to address this matter in the past, but it is time we took definitive steps to challenge perceptions. We must showcase our profession to men who have the potential to become excellent nurses, and ensure the emerging nursing workforce is as diverse as the people we care for.
Main Auditorium, Belfast Waterfront, 2 Lanyon Place, Belfast, BT1 3WH
Resolution, submitted by the RCN Belfast Branch
Page last updated - 10/08/2020