Transforming perceptions of nursing and midwifery: a challenge that comes with huge opportunities

Following the first men in nursing and midwifery event last week at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Paul Vaughan, Director of Nursing, Transformation at NHS England highlights the importance of attracting more men into nursing and midwifery professions.

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking with more than 40 nurses and midwives about the work we have done so far to improve perceptions of nursing and midwifery, address myths and further develop the pride across our professions. I am asked to speak with nursing, midwifery and care staff up and down the country on a regular basis, but this particular event was quite different; the overwhelming majority were men.

The perceptions of nursing and midwifery programme was launched by Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England in March 2017 and since then, work has developed at pace up and down the country. We have seen more than 250 stories submitted to crowdicity, an innovative platform and these ideas and stories are being used by a growing network of nursing and midwifery ambassadors up and down the country to help address and improve perceptions of nursing and midwifery and shape their narrative to determine what it is like to be a nurse or midwife.

The opportunities offered by a career in nursing and midwifery have never been better, with roles ranging from the essential day to day caring responsibilities, to the highly technical, research, executive leadership and many more.

Through this important work, we want young people to know about the exciting breadth of careers available; we want teachers to promote nursing and midwifery as a career of choice, we want nurses and midwives to reignite their pride in the professions, and we want system leaders and decision makers to make sure nursing and midwifery expertise is at the heart of shaping future healthcare policy. It is these three key areas that make up the work streams that are guiding the work we are scoping, delivering and leading today and in the future.

So with this in mind, why is important that we focus some of our efforts particularly on men in nursing and midwifery?

Dr Helen Jarvis published a fantastic report in 2006 which talks about how our gender often socialises us into future careers. And we know that based on research and evidence available to us that young men don’t often view nursing and midwifery as a potential future profession for them. This needs to change and delegates that attended the first ‘men in nursing and midwifery’ event at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust highlighted their determination and support to do all they can to ensure that more men consider nursing and midwifery as careers.

We heard from Andrew Clifton, a mental health nurse and Associate Professor of Nursing, De Montfort University, who spoke about some pieces of research that have taken place that have looked into men in nursing and what can prevent men from joining the profession. Andrew spoke of gender bias, lived experience and challenges that men can sometimes face.

We also heard from Clint Southern-Warburton, a mature student who is just about to graduate and become a paediatric nurse. Clint came from a career in telecommunications as an engineer and decided he wanted a change in career and that nursing was for him. His key messages were centred around why we should all portray nursing and midwifery as fantastic professions for everyone, in all walks of life. He and others spoke about the endless career opportunities nursing and midwifery professions offer from different specialisms through to research, education, as well as the potential to become a Director of Nursing or Midwifery.

It was fascinating to hear from one of our first nursing ambassadors, Richard Dowell, a third year student nurse who spoke highly about why it is important to engage with all children and young people at a young age to really describe what nurses and midwives do.

At this moment in time, around 10 per cent of nurses and midwives across the country are men, so it is not surprising that delegates at the event articulated their passion and drive to encourage more men into nursing.

We also heard from Steph Aitken, Director of Nursing at the Royal College of Nursing who outlined a recent debate at RCN Congress in Belfast, just a couple of weeks ago. Many of you may have heard that a discussion took place about the idea of a campaign to encourage more men into nursing and midwifery. The resolution was not passed but what was made clear, supporting our perceptions work is the need to take steps to change perceptions of nursing as a profession: “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.”

During the event, several myths of men in nursing and midwifery were discussed and debated, ranging from ‘Nursing and midwifery isn’t a career for men’ ‘Intraprofessional narrative can be gender biased and lean more towards women’ through to ‘Midwives are women’ and ‘Men aren’t caring enough’.

The final part of the day enabled delegates to share their thoughts, ideas and suggestions to take forward some concrete actions both individually and collectively to tackle some of these common myths and stereotypes. Some fantastic ideas included:

  • sharing personal stories of care to close the gender bias
  • promotional material to be gender diverse – such as a male midwife
  • getting out to young people on a large scale
  • speaking with careers advisors to ensure nursing and midwifery is sold equally to young men and women
  • promote the diversity of nursing

So yes there are challenges and yes it will take time, but we have made a very strong start and I look forward to seeing more events like this up and down the country as we start to improve perceptions of nursing and midwifery, showcasing our professions as careers for all.

Paul Vaughan

Paul works with NHS England as Director of Nursing, Transformation. Currently, the focus of his role is on general practice nursing and the delivery of the GPN Ten Point Plan. Paul also leads a national initiative on the perception of nursing and midwifery.

Paul was a Regional Director with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). Leading and managing RCN services in the West Midlands, Paul worked with key stakeholders to ensure the needs of RCN members within the region were met and the interests of nurses, HCAs and nursing were promoted and protected.

Engaging members in the work of the RCN was a key focus for Paul. Through his conception and delivery of the Local Learning Event Programme (branch engagement) and the Cultural Ambassadors Programme (addressing concerns of BME members with the disciplinary and grievance process) the region gained a reputation for listening to members and working with them to deliver positive change.

Paul has also been the RCN’s HCA Adviser, offering advice to HCAs, Assistant Practitioners (AP) and employers on issues relating to the employment and development of these roles. He also made a significant contribution to the development of the HCA role in general practice through his role as the National Project Manager with the Working in Partnership Programmes (WiPP), Health Care Assistant Initiative.

Last year, Paul completed a Masters in Management with the University of Liverpool and his dissertation focused on the factors that enable nursing staff to raise concerns in their workplace.


  1. Betsy Barker says:

    Thanks for this blog….i have never understood why there are not more male nurses…I have known two….one in Amereica in the early 1960s, and another in Brighton, Sussex in the 1980s. Both were superb. I would have been quite happy to have a male midwife for all of my three children.
    All nurses need to have a stronger profile in society in general…better kudos, better pay, and better recruitment. Hope this initiative is really successful. The NHS is utterly fantastic, even now in times of wretched Government austerity and cutbacks. I live in Scotland, and have nothing but praise for the situation up here. Thank you for your hard work and caring for society. Betsy Barker

  2. Pauline Holbrook says:

    Why nurses are leaving is that Trusts push their staff to breaking point. They have no regard for their staff you are threatened with dismissal if you go sick after a few episodes. A colleague of mine was threatened with dismissal because os sickness, she had had a kidney op then got infection.i had to have an operation on my eye or loose my sight, I still had to go to HR because this was 4 sickness episodes. I have just retired at 65. I couldn’t go on any longer I was burnt out, I did 21 years. This is where your problem is and the pay is disgusting. I got paid less than ward staff working in recovery for doing skills almost equall to ITU. No one seems to see these problems. You are just pushed to do more and more. Unless you address these issues staff will leave. We are not given any recognition as are paramedics and the police. Nurses are not valued by the public and more by Trusts.

  3. Claire Atterbury says:

    I regularly go into my village primary school and goddaughters’ private school to talk about “people who help us” (key stage one) as a nurse, and Florence Nightingale to Key Stage 2 pupils as I am a Nightingale nurse. Maybe I could ask the head teachers to invite one of my male colleagues to go instead.

    • NHS England says:

      Thanks for your comment Claire and it is great to hear that you visit local schools to promote nursing – this is one of the key pieces of work that our nursing and midwifery ambassadors are leading in communities across the country.It would be great if you and your colleague could both visit local schools to showcase our professions as we are keen to portray nursing as a career for life, for both men and women.

      Are you a nursing ambassador? Your enthusiasm and passion for nursing would be really valued as part of our growing network. Please join us if you haven’t considered already – please email

      Kind Regards
      NHS England

  4. Wasim Ahmaf-Khan says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    I would like to introduce myself, I am founding president of APNA (All Pakistan Nurses Association UK in 2004 at London.
    I am an experienced proud Muslim British Pakistani Nurse (RN) living in Barking area since 1999.
    I am very keen to promote nursing in our community with special interest for more men to join our noble profession.
    I have good net work with our communities globally and want to involve in any project to promote Nursing with special interest for more men to join nursing.
    I am active member of RCN and life member of PNF for long time. I am spending few months in Pakistan every year and have good links with professional colleagues internationally.
    I wish to be an Ambassador of Nursing at all levels.
    Please contact me if I can play my role for our rewarding profession.
    Kind regards.
    Wasim Ahmad-Khan
    Founder & CEO

    • NHS England says:

      Thanks for your comment Wasim and really good to hear from you. Please do contact Bev Matthews – and we would be delighted if you could join our network of nursing and midwifery ambassadors to promote and showcase nursing and midwifery within your local community.

      Kind Regards
      NHS England

      • Jennifer Pearson says:

        Hi Paul
        Loved your blog. I have always found that having men on the team somehow changes the dynamic for the better.The workforce needs to represent the community it serves and in every community there are men! Some of the issues men face in the nursing profession mirrors the issues experienced by BME staff, another minority group I was pleased to see that you championed.Keep up the good work