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Swimming against the malestream: Men choosing nursing as a career

Thomas Harding, RN, PhD, Deputy Head, School of Nursing (NSW & ACT), Faculty of Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Sydney, Australia

Harding, T. (2009). Swimming against the malestream: Men choosing nursing as a career. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 25(3), 4-16.

Abstract

This article reports on one aspect of a larger study, which used qualitative methods to critically explore the social construction of men as nurses. It draws upon literature pertaining to gender and nursing, and interviews with 18 New Zealand men to describe the factors underpinning decisions to turn away from malestream occupations and enter a profession stereotyped as ‘women’s work’. Five thematic groupings are revealed to be significant with respect to the decision-making process: formative experiences, the Call, expediency, personal acquaintance with a nurse and personal fulfilment. These factors, however, do not necessarily operate in isolation. The reasons for becoming nurses are complex and multifactorial.

In comparison to the experiences reported in the international literature, the men in this study were more focused on human caring and the transformational potential for personal fulfilment rather than a focus on the barriers to their engagement with nursing.

Key Words: Nursing, men, gender, ‘women’s work’, qualitative research.

Introduction

This article describes the factors which underpinned the decisions of a group of New Zealand men to turn away from malestream occupations and become nurses; a profession stereotyped as ‘women’s work’. Hearn (1999) described malestream organisations as “the main political arenas by which men maintain power in the public worlds and the main areas of accumulation of men’s resources in the public worlds” (p. 3). Thus, malestream occupations can be understood as those in which a dominant male hierarchy subjugates the interests of women to those of men and in doing so marginalises women and the work they do.

This paper draws upon one aspect of a larger work (Harding, 2005), which used qualitative research methods to explore the experiences of men who are nurses in Aotearoa New Zealand. It presented a critical discussion of a number of facets of significance to the understanding of men as nurses. These included the construction of masculinity, the construction of images of the nurse, the reaction to men who are nurses, sexuality issues, career development, and men and caring. The themes related to entering nursing identified in the earlier work will be presented and discussed within the context of findings from the international literature.........cont.

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