A Spotlight on Men in Nursing and Nursing Leadership Roles
You might be asking yourself what does the gender disparity in Nursing look like, the following statistics really do paint the picture for us. Did you know that in England,
- Only 4% of nurses working in general practice identify as male. (625 men, 15,706 women).
- Only 10% of advanced nurse practitioners, specialist nurses and nurse partners identify as male.
- Only 23.3% of 1.3 million NHS staff identify as male.
- Only 82,576 of the 758,275 people on the NMC register identify as male.
(Sources: NHS Digital; NHS England; Nursing and Midwifery Council, December 2022)
Why does this matter?
We are in the midst of a well documented global shortage of nursing staff, in fact The World Health Organization (2021) forecast a global shortfall of 9 million nurses to meet population health needs by 2030. Could breaking through some of the gender disparity in nursing help tackle that issue? I was really interested to learn more about the nursing profession for men in particular, and was delighted to catch up with someone with first hand experience of being a nurse, and progressing into a nursing leadership role - our very own Director of Custody and SARC, Jon Allen, who started his nursing career back in 1997 and has progressed through to his current role as Head of Custody and SARC for G4S Health Services.
Jon, thank you for speaking with us today. I wondered if we could start by casting your mind back to earlier in your career, when you were just starting out as a nurse, what was it that first made you decide that nursing was the career for you?
I got into nursing completely by accident. I always wanted to join the Police Force, and had been accepted into Cheshire Police (I actually left college 6 months early to join the police). Whilst waiting for enrolment I took a job as security guard, I was working in the South Wales Valleys on a night shift when I was quite badly assaulted at work.
Because of my injuries I ended up being off work for 3 months, so by the time I was well enough to return to work I was told by the Police force that I had to go back through my medical and they weren't recruiting again that year… so I took job in a nursing home and absolutely loved it, which then led to a career in nursing.
That incident changed your entire career trajectory. What did you do next?
I stayed there as Healthcare Assistant for 2 years at the nursing home, then I took a job as ODP. I completed my ODP Level 2 training, and then had to decide whether I wanted to do level 3 (to become a scrub nurse) or do a 3 year university nursing course. I chose to do the 3 year university course because I knew that if I did ODP level 3 I would be limited to the operating theatre, whereas if I did the 3 year university nursing course I chose to stay in theatres or go elsewhere. In 1997 I started my nursing course at University College Worcester, there were 5 men all together including one other male colleague who I worked with up in Liverpool, he was supposed to start 6 months later but he managed to get on earlier. That was nice as I had someone with me which was great.
How did you find juggling university and work placements?
I found it less challenging than others because of the Clinical experience I had gained in my previous roles I had, and also because I had a wide experience in nursing homes and operating theatres. Whilst in theatres I’d been doing some work in wards, so I knew some of the basics already like how to take blood pressure, etc. Compared to others on the course I had a lot of experience which was good. There was a great mix of people on my course - some of them had more patient experience like myself others didn’t, but they had completed more courses so were more academic. That worked well because we all helped each other out using our own strengths, and there was a nice community feel.
What is it like being a male nurse now, and how does that compare to 1997?
It’s pretty much the same, I say that partly in a sad way really. Because it almost feels like we’ve addressed the discrimination against women in male dominated roles - for example you can’t have a WPC (Woman Police Officer) anymore, it’s just police officers, and rightly so… the same thing with firefighters - you don’t say ‘woman firefighter anymore, it’s just firefighters. We haven’t done that in nursing - in nursing the role is still labelled as a male nurse if you’re a man. Then in another way it’s a positive - my experience back then and right through to the current day, is that being ‘male’ doesn’t factor in. I am, and always have been, treated as simply ‘a nurse’ - never ‘a male nurse’.
What would your advice be to any males who are considering a career in nursing?
I think it’s a great career, it’s an interesting career. It’s like nothing else, no two days are ever the same. There are great opportunities for career advancement for males and females. You’re well supported in wellbeing and training opportunities. Also, it’s a career you can do anything with - I think that it’s important to know that you’re not limited to just working within the NHS. Nursing opens a lot of doors - whether that’s healthcare on cruises, nursing abroad - it really does open up a lot of avenues to people.
It was great to hear about your experiences in nursing. If we can, we’d love to talk a little about your experiences as a male in a nursing leadership role?
Of course - though I don’t think being male or female in this makes any difference. As a leader I’ve never really been seen as a male in a female environment, I’ve always been seen as (and seen myself as) a nurse. I’m not a male in this leadership role, I’m a nurse in this leadership role. This is important because when I think back to my days as a band 5 nurse - I always felt like I was making a difference and that was important and then taking the role I’m in today the changes we’ve made to processes within custody for example, that’s still making a difference and impacting our patients on the frontline. So first and foremost I see myself as a nurse and not anything else… and a nurse leader in leadership rather than a male leader in leadership. I’ve been fortunate all through my career in experiencing that.
What was your first experience in management like?
I took on a role as a site manager. It was a management role within a small NHS hospital. I did that for 2 years and I enjoyed it. Then I remember having a 121 with my director (who was an ex-nurse) and he gave me some valuable advice which I always remembered. He told me ‘you really need to get out of the NHS for wider experience - otherwise you’ll be learning from people who have always done the same thing as you’. It was the best advice I’ve been given, I took it on board and quickly realised there are lots of different management styles and challenges outside of the NHS environment, and lots of valuable experience working in the private sector in particular budgetary management. So I feel my NHS experience combined with the private sector experience has made me a much more rounded manager who is able to balance service improvement with budgetary constraints.
Another example of natural progression for you there into nursing leadership. What was your first leadership role outside of the NHS like?
I left the NHS and joined ‘GP out of hours’ as their Clinical Manager. It was a really interesting role and a good place to pick up on my management skills as it was a great opportunity to manage different diverse groups. When I worked in GP out of hours there was the clinical manager role which I filled, and also an operational manager role - so there was always that tension between spend and safety. I got used to being challenged on.
That really brings to life how you developed those operational skills quite early on in your career as a nursing leader. Can you tell us a little more about how your experience as a nurse impacted you as a nursing leader?
All the way through my career it’s been about improving things for the patient - whether that’s suturing someone as a band 5 nurse or changing processes today - it’s all about improving things for the patient. Every leader I’ve ever had has shared that ethos and I’ve always had that experience throughout my career. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’ve been lucky, or because that is the type of person who goes into this role. As a nurse and also as a nursing leader, I always had good mentors and leaders around me. Then coming into G4S as head of custody I was able to draw on experience as a custody nurse. We used to work on call for the local police service really early in my career... so it felt full circle from wanting to work with the police, to working on call for the police… then finally to managing contracts for the police.
What we found really interesting when researching this topic was that only 4% of the nursing workforce is male, yet 10% of advanced nurse practitioners and specialist nurse posts in general practice are held by men, and the same proportion of nurse partner posts so that tells us that once men are in the nursing profession, they are progressing into more senior roles. Do you think men realise the career development potential in nursing? Why is that?
I don't know, but I definitely don't think males are fast tracked over females (that hasn't been my experience at least), in in fact I remember going for nurse progression in A&E and being overlooked for females because they had more experience etc. which was the right thing. So I never felt that I was fast tracked, the roles I gained always felt right based on my experience and expertise. When I think back on what motivated me to apply for my first management position, it wasn't that I was trying to climb the career ladder - the vast majority of my nursing career was in A&E and I always thought I’d stay there. However, they brought in 4 hour targets and all of a sudden I went from being one of most experienced and highly trained nurses in the department (I regularly undertook advanced training whilst in role)… so it went from that, to every single day I was going into work with a clipboard making sure people didn’t go over that 4 hour target. That was my role as a band 7 nurse, so I had to make a decision - do I drop down a grade, take a pay cut and do the job I love or do I continue with career progression?
I knew I didn’t want to spend my shifts walking around with a clipboard checking the 4 hour limit, so I decided to continue with career progression, and that’s what took me into management. I don’t think people do realise the career opportunities, but I think that’s because you come into nursing to help patients. My happiest days were being a band 5 or 6 Nurse in A&E - I’d come in, do my work then go home. They were great days! I do think it all goes back to the ‘why you do it’ at the very start; When the majority of Nurses join they aren’t really looking beyond being a nurse - people don’t generally join it with a 10 year career plan. So I think they join without realising the career opportunities available. Back in the day my ultimate aim was to be a G grade, which was a charge nurse. That feels like a lifetime ago now, but back then I didn’t know about all of the roles that were available.
Why do you think there is such disparity between males and females in nursing? How do you think could take steps to drive more gender equality?
I don’t know because I’ve never had a negative experience within my profession of being a male nurse. I’ve always just been treated by my colleagues and more senior people as just being ‘a nurse’. There’s definitely something about the way in which we have approached other male dominated professions where they took steps of banning the W in WPC. They’ve not done that in nursing it feels like it needs modernising in that way. But having said that it has never bothered me personally, maybe it’s a sign of the times that people don’t feel the need to say ‘don’t call me a male nurse, I’m simply a nurse’. My experience was always a really good experience and I felt that I was always treated as a nurse and not a male nurse. It doesn’t bother me, but it doesn’t feel right either as it makes it feel like a male nurse is not the same as a female nurse - despite having the same qualifications, same time in university etc.
It’s interesting to hear your perspective on that. It sounds like you’re looking at it through two lenses. As a nurse it hasn’t bothered you personally, but when you think about it as a nursing leader you feel it should change?
Yes, that’s right. In G4S everyone is a Healthcare Practitioner - whereas in the NHS that isn’t the case - when you reach band 7 as a female nurse your job title is ‘Sister’, if you’re a band 7 male nurse your job title is ‘Charge Nurse’. Nothing has changed since long before I was doing it! If you look on NHS jobs the majority of roles being advertised are just ‘sister’ not even ‘sister/charge nurse’. So whilst males can apply for them - many of the jobs are being actively advertised to females and not males. once you reach a certain level the different names for the same role based on gender disappears. For example Advanced Nurse Practitioners are just ‘Advanced Nurse Practitioners’ regardless of gender - there’s no male label to that. You don’t see ‘Sister Advanced Nurse Practitioner’. It’s interesting when you think about it.
Our final question for you, what is your favourite thing about being in a nursing leadership role?
I’ve got two - first and foremost my favourite thing is that I still get to effect change for patients at ground level. Then a close second is that I’m able to draw on both my private sector experience and also my NHS experience to have a well rounded view as a leader. I enjoy that bigger picture thinking.
It was fantastic to hear Jon’s perspective on being a male nurse leader, I was curious to hear what nurses who report into a male nurse leader think. Do they share Jon’s view that gender doesn’t really factor into it... and that regardless of being male or female, you’re simply thought of as ‘a nurse in leadership’? Or does Jon have rose tinted glasses on when thinking about this topic? I wanted to find out, so I asked three nurses who report into Jon a simple question which they could answer anonymously - Is there a difference between having a male nurse leader, to a female nurse leader? Here is what they said:
There is no difference. He is a nurse, he is the leader. My experience with my current manager (who is male) is that he is lovely, insightful, caring and kind.
There can be a perception that a male might not understand ‘women’s issues’ such as menopause, child care but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
So there you have it, directly from nurses and even a nursing leader. Regardless of gender you can enter this profession and be assured of a supportive, caring and most definitely inclusive culture.
Article by: Stevie Ingram-Palmer, Learning, Development and Communications Lead, G4S Health Services