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Diversity in healthcare - and why it's essential

By Phill Hoddinott

This Saturday (19 November) marks International Men’s Day 2022 IMD. This is a global day that focuses on promoting positive conversations to and about men, manhood and masculinity, recognising the positive value men bring to the world, their families, and communities. Other areas such as the importance of men’s mental and physical health issues and speaking about male suicide are also highlighted.

In every aspect of our lives, we need to see diversity. Whether it’s in our government, our place of work or our local supermarket - we need to see that it exists. Diversity isn’t just about ticking a box to ensure representation, it’s much more, it’s about seeing a reflection of ourselves in our own world. Diversity gives us a sense of belonging.

Diversity in healthcare is essential - I truly believe that the inside of a hospital, a surgery, a community team or anywhere else you access healthcare should look exactly like the outside world. Often when we speak about diversity, we focus on race, but it’s much more than that. One area of diversity in healthcare that I want to highlight ahead of IMD 2022 is around men in nursing.

At the last count, just over 49% of the UK population is male, yet men only make up 11% of the UK Registered Nurse workforce, a number that has been static for a number of years. Here at LSBU these figures are reflected, and just over 12% of our students and apprentices studying in the School of Health and Social Care are male. To me, this says that we still have some work to do to ensure that the nursing workforce is more balanced and reflects the outside world.

There’s still a lot of stigma around men in nursing. Nursing is often described as a female dominated profession, an unhelpful headline in my opinion. Over the years I have heard many comments around the stigma of being a man in nursing - “are you a male nurse?” and “did you want to be a doctor?” amongst other statements. It’s still a strange phenomenon to some that men can be and want to be nurses.

We must break down some of these barriers around the stigma of men in nursing and really look at what diversity in nursing looks like, so we can create a truly modern and representative nursing workforce. Gender in nursing is just one arm of diversity that we need to consider, and there are many more areas that need to be looked at on the way too. We know that the NHS is having extreme difficulties, and one answer the government have come up with is finding 50,000 more nurses in the NHS by 2024. Making nursing more accessible to all can help with this. Telling boys at school its ok to be a man and be a nurse, telling the man who wants to change his career that nursing is a valid career choice for him can help reach this figure.

We need better role modelling in the media, and TV programmes that show positive images of men in nursing. Charlie Fairhead in Casualty has done wonders, but his career started over 30 years ago, and we need new and modernised men in nursing on our screens.

I have been a Registered Nurse for just over two decades. I have had and am having a very happy career as a man in nursing. When I discuss my nursing heroes, I talk about those who have inspired me, helped me, supported me and usually they are women in nursing - I too need to see a lot more men in nursing making it into my top 10 list!

With campaigning for nursing careers to have greater diversity and male representation comes responsibility. Those of us that are men in nursing have a huge responsibility to ensure that encouraging more men into nursing does not devalue women in nursing. We must not only recognise issues around imbalance and unfairness, but actively commit to ensuring matters around equal career progression and women’s safety are understood and fully supported to ensure that our diversity and representation adds to everyone’s equality. This year on International Women’s Day I wrote a comment-based article on this very subject.

So, on IMD 2022, let’s think about the importance of diversity, particularly around men in nursing and explore some of our own and society’s prejudices around this. Breaking down the barriers and encouraging more people into nursing is important – let’s encourage some of these people to be men.

Find out more about International Men’s Day 2022.

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