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“It’s ok for men to care. These qualities are not to be suppressed but to be embraced. These are natural traits of men, they are inherent traits that society drives out of men.”

These were the words of ACN Men in Nursing Working Group Chair Luke Yokota as he shared his experiences of being a male nurse and the barriers he faced when considering a career in nursing at last week’s 2019 Australian College of Nursing (ACN) National Nursing Forum (NNF) in Hobart.

Established in 2018, the ACN Men in Nursing Working Group aims to raise the profile of men in nursing and improve the nursing workforce through greater retention and recruitment of men.

The working group has been actively promoting and engaging men to enter the nursing profession in the past year.

“To do this we need to remove society’s stereotypical barriers for men wishing to become nurses and promote an image that it is ok for men to care,” Luke said.

The ACN’s Men in Nursing eBook was launched online at the 2019 NNF to help achieve the goals.

It presents a powerful collection of stories from 28 males who outline their experiences as nurses, including a rugby player, a male from the corporate world, and someone who became inspired to enter nursing after having cared for a sick sibling.

All the men featured hope to highlight what it is like working in the profession and send a message to others that it’s ok to care, Luke said.

Delegates heard the ‘desire to help people’ or ‘ability to make a difference’ has been highlighted by men as an influencing factor to pursue a nursing career.

Luke’s message that it’s ok for men to care formed the key message of his address to ACN’s 2018 NNF that led to the hashtag #itsoktocare and the establishment of the ACN Men in Nursing Working Group.

“We are boxed into stereotypes the world wants us to be; we do not foster qualities in men, especially caring qualities. We are told you have to toughen up, have a spoonful of concrete and don’t cry.”

Luke, an RN at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane and a clinical facilitator and tutor at Griffith University, said his motivation to pursue nursing didn’t start at an early age.

Obsessed with Lego at aged six, his childhood aspiration was to become a civil engineer.

“Receiving good grades in high school, I had a large choice of university courses I could select. I really had the capacity to nearly study anything. However, something changed, suddenly engineering wasn’t as enticing as it had originally been. I had come down to a crisis that most young adults leaving high school come to, ‘What do I want to be?’”

None of Luke’s family members were medical health professionals, and he hadn’t spent much time in hospital as a child.

“I can go into all the intricate names and roles of what a nurse can be and do however what really engaged me to consider nursing as a viable career option was caring and nurturing people.

“During the same time my interest further increased with nursing when my grandfather went into care. I would often visit him in his aged care home down the road from where we lived. Instantly I decided to volunteer. From my experience of volunteering at the nursing home my admiration for the profession grew.”

It was one day during Luke’s gap year while visiting his grandfather with his family that the discussion of his career choice of nursing came up.

“At first my grandfather was in disbelief and surely assumed it was a joke and started laughing. He couldn’t rectify a man wanting to be a nurse based on his beliefs and life experience. This shook my confidence as up until this point I hadn’t really received any negative feedback. However, with conviction and gentle support of others I continued with my choice of profession.”

Social perceptions were changing and men entering nursing were now influenced by knowledge gained from family and friends in the profession, Luke said.

But the number of male nurses still remains low.

Registration data from 2017 shows men made up just 11.75% of the registered nursing workforce in Australia.

“I didn’t have one male nurse facilitator during my training. We need more positive male role models, it is essential – inspiration is the key,” Luke said.

There are significant benefits to increasing the number of men in the nursing profession, he suggested.

Gender diversity in nursing can have a positive impact on improving the work culture and the quality of patient care.

The ACN Men in Nursing Working Group is working on strategies to change the perception of nursing in Australia to be more inclusive of men. These include:
1. Increase the number of men entering the nursing profession after school as their first profession
2. Meet the predicted shortfall of nursing workforce demand
3. Remove the stigma that nursing is a profession for women only
4. Encourage men to work in areas of nursing outside of critical care, mental health and administration/management
5. Retain men in nursing
6. Understand the issues faced by men entering and staying in the nursing profession
7. Send an overarching message to the community that it’s ok for men to care.