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Do we need more men in general practice nursing?

  • Have we done enough to rid the health service of prejudice among staff?
  • When was the last time you saw a male practice nurse?
  • Where does the perception of practice nursing as a destination for the final years of your career come from?
  • Would having a wider demographic represented in community nursing enable the NHS to serve the population’s health needs better?

I always think of nursing as a very inclusive profession. Nurses treat everyone fairly – regardless of their race, age or religion. I have heard nurses talk about treating the victim of a crime and the perpetrator with equal respect and attention in a moving and remarkable way.

And yet, when it comes to nurses themselves, I am not always sure they gain that same respect.

“She just assumed that she would not be able to progress – based on the colour of her skin”

I was struck by this feeling when interviewing Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu at Nursing Times Careers Live on Thursday in Leeds. She was talking about how one of her friends, who trained with her and was white, always thought that Elizabeth could never become a ward sister because she was not white. She just assumed that she would not be able to progress – based on the colour of her skin.

The NHS has changed, but the prejudice has not shifted as much as it really should have done, according to several reports published in recent years. We know that nurses from a black, minority and ethnic background are under-represented in leadership positions in the health service.

But there are other areas where pockets of the profession are under-represented.

“There are other areas where pockets of the profession are under-represented”

Another speaker at yesterday’s event – Helen Radlett, a primary care nurse from York Street Medical Practice in Cambridge – talked about how only 2% of practice nurses were men. The perception of the role, in both the media and the profession, that it was a destination for the end of your career as an older woman, will not help to attract men.

Could it be that if male patients had easy access to a nurse-led clinic run by a man they might be less reluctant to visit their GP practice? And would practice nursing better serve its community if there were more men involved in this part of the profession?

Helen also said that the lack of placements in general practice for students meant that newly qualified nurses, generally, tended not to think of this as a place to work at the point of qualification.

“I have heard some in the profession being dismissive about community-based jobs”

Practice nurses could have a greater influence on the public to have healthier lifestyles – give up smoking, lose weight, drink less, exercise more and take responsible decisions on sexual health. We all know that keeping people healthier prevents such a huge financial burden hitting the NHS later on. But wouldn’t the messages from the NHS be more effective if the nurses supporting their communities in healthy attitudes reflected the people they were serving? Shouldn’t there be more men and nurses at all stages of their careers in primary care nursing?

Sometimes, of course, nurses themselves are responsible for being less respectful about certain roles within the profession. I have heard some in the profession being dismissive about community-based jobs.

Nurses excel at putting aside their prejudices to care for patients and service users, but shouldn’t they also put aside their prejudices to care for their careers and the profession?

On The Pulse is a weekly round-up of what’s happening in nursing or an analysis of a key nursing issue, written by Nursing Times staff.

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