Media and Communications Manager
The 1970s was a time of social change; bell bottoms filled the streets, dance floors grooved to disco beats, and the women’s movement was in full-swing. In a hospital ward in Wellington, New Zealand, change was also on the horizon for a group of young nurses.
A young man had enrolled to become a nurse – the only male out of 43 trainees.
Jumping forward to 2017 and that man, Andrew Cameron, is still a nurse. Throughout the years, his job has taken him to the far corners of the globe – Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia and Sudan – not to mention the rural turn of Birdsville, Queensland, where he is now Director of Nursing.
He has risen to the top of his profession, receiving the Australian Nurse of the Year in 2004 and the Florence Nightingale Medal in 2011 for exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict. But things weren’t always easy for him as a man in a predominantly female profession.
Reflecting back on his first few years in nursing, Mr Cameron describes some tough times and recalls being discriminated against for being a male nurse.
“I remember back in the 1970s as a trainee, I was not allowed near the gynaecological or maternity wards, but this was really nonsense because nearly all the obstetricians and gynaecologists were men!
“My very presence was quite a novelty, and often I felt very out of place. But that was over forty years ago. Times have changed and as the percentage of men in nursing has slowly increased and peoples' attitudes have largely changed as well, this is all for the better.”
Years have passed but nursing is still a highly female-dominated occupation. Only one in 10 nurses in Australia are men and new research suggests that some men in nursing today encounter a number of the same challenges that Mr Cameron did in the 1970s.
The research, published in the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, looks at the challenges men face on their journey to nurse registration. A number of the men interviewed in the study reported feeling like an outsider in a ‘woman’s job,’ encountering stereotypes that ranged from assumptions about their sexuality to their actual role.
The research calls for the profession to be de-feminised, a call underpinned by economic gains, as Australia faces a projected shortfall of nurses of approximately 85,000 nurses by 2025.
Libby Lyons, Director Workplace Gender Equality Agency, says it is beyond time to bring gender into the conversation about workforce shortages in the health sector.
“It is possible that our failure to encourage men into female-dominated roles is a symptom of gender bias: we are happy to encourage women to "step up" into male-dominated roles, but we rarely encourage men to undertake the caring.”
If Mr Cameron’s career is anything to go by, nursing can lead to a great range of possibilities for both women and men. Mr Cameron didn’t let biases stop him from pursuing a rewarding career in nursing, he continued to buck the trend going on to train as a midwife, delivering over 500 babies and caring for disadvantaged people all over the world.
“You might not become a millionaire, but you will have a rich and fulfilling life, crowded with abundant opportunities to help others less fortunate than yourself.”
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Gender segregation in Australia's workforce - this factsheet highlights the gender segregation of Australia's workforce by industry and occupation.