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Breaking Gender Norms as a Millennial Male Nurse

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Finding acceptance, encouragement and success while pursing a challenging career.

There was a time, not long ago, when gender played a big role in the career you picked. For millennials who grew up with parents telling them they could achieve whatever they could imagine, it seems unthinkable, but for the generations that came before us, career choices were by and large limited by your gender as much as anything else, unless you were willing to be a trailblazer and put up with all the detractors, that is.

Of course, all this is changing, but it takes time, and while in most professions the old norms about gender roles may have been long overcome, they leave a long trail.

Nursing is one of the professions often associated with traditional gender roles. In modern Western history at least it has been a career path mostly taken by women. The 2001 Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey found only 10 percent of nurses in the country are men, the rest – a full 90 percent – are women. So while in Canada today it’s much more common to see men practicing nursing, the gender divide still remains, and the men who practice nursing truly are breaking the norm.

At 22, David Runnalls has completed his first year of the Compressed Nursing Program at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Speaking to The Reply about his experiences, he says he didn’t have any hesitations about going into nursing because of gender stereotypes.

“I knew some males who were enrolled in nursing and they enjoyed it,” he says. “I felt there was a lot of opportunity for young people in nursing and that a lot of the aspects of the profession – such as using evidence-based science, performing hands on skills and assessments, and interacting with people – would make it a great career choice.”

A Supportive Environment

Runnalls was enrolled in another program at Trent because he wanted to pursue a career that was more based in sciences, and had more hands-on opportunities to interact with people. His program is still skewed towards female students but Runnalls says he thinks nursing would benefit from having more men.

“I think most people understand nursing has historically been a female-dominated profession, but as our society changes, more men are embracing nursing as a rewarding career,” he says. “Anytime I tell friends, colleagues or family that I am in nursing they are supportive and interested to learn about my experiences as a nursing student.”

David Runnalls is pursuing the Compressed Nursing Program at Trent University.

David Runnalls is pursuing the Compressed Nursing Program at Trent University.

What’s encouraging is that while the divide between men and women in nursing still exists, the profession, at least in Ontario, is making it a priority. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) even developed the Men in Nursing interest group that looks to promote issues around men in the profession.

“I think gender stereotypes do still exist in nursing but they are not a major barrier for males, and they should not discourage someone from pursuing a career in nursing,” Runnalls says. “I have completed two clinical placements in long term care and mental health and I have never had any issues because I was a male. I found patients were accepting of a male nursing student and other healthcare workers were supportive.”

He also says he hasn’t experienced any challenges as a nursing student because of his gender. Even during his placements at mental health and long term care facilities, patients were accepting of having a male provide care.

Encouraging Others

Not only has he found patients accepting of him, but Runnalls says he is enjoying nursing because of those interactions with patients.

“It’s interesting to talk with patients while your providing care and listen to them describe their lives,” he says. “I have met a lot of people through nursing that I otherwise would not have encountered and heard about experiences that you would have not expected someone to have been through by just looking at them.”

He does admit the nursing program can be academically and emotionally demanding, saying it is hard work and can be stressful. But Runnalls is also encouraging to other men looking to pursue a program in nursing, specifically those who are perhaps unsure of how they would be perceived.

“People who pursue careers associated with gender stereotypes can help contribute to breaking those gender stereotypes and serve as a source of inspiration to other people,” he says.

Accepting traditional gender roles, especially in careers, is severely limiting and as frontrunners like Runnalls continue to show, there are rewarding and fulfilling careers for those willing to break with convention.

“I would strongly encourage other people to pursue the career they desire regardless of any outdated ideas of stereotyping,” he says. “I believe society is continually changing and that people need to be progressive and open to new ideas such as men or women pursuing careers that have traditionally been dominated by a different gender.”

What do you think of David’s story? Are you pursing a non-traditional career as well? Share you thoughts and stories in the comments.

by

Christopher is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. He has a fondness for strong coffee, good books and foreign news services. When he was five years old his father helped him raise a family of chipmunks over the winter, you should ask him about it. Professionally, he’s spent time as a technology journalist, PR consultant, and freelance blogger. Christopher’s work has appeared in a lot of trade magazines you’ve probably never heard of and maybe some you have. He has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and a certificate in Media Foundations from Humber College in Toronto.

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