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.

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