Why gender doesn't matter in nursing
At over six-foot-tall with broad shoulders and forearms full of ink, Russell West is about as far from the stereotypical image of a nurse as you can get. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally called for security rather than care if he walked into your hospital cubicle. But that’s the problem with stereotypes — they blind you from judging people on their merit as opposed to society’s prejudices.
Sadly, the (misguided) belief that nursing is women’s work still exists and is reflected in data that show only 10 per cent of nurses working in Australia are men. This gender bias mindset must change because equality in the workplace attracts top talent, improves diversity, and increases productivity and performance in organisations. For these reasons, we have to forget outdated views and focus on the quality of the nurse if we want a thriving healthcare sector. Russell has just months to go until he completes his nursing course. And he can’t wait to get out on the ward and start changing people’s perceptions one patient at a time. We caught up with him to find out more.
Nursing is hereditary in my family. My aunties, uncles and cousins are all nurses so I think caring is in my blood. But it took me a long time to realise my passion. I spent 16 years in the fire service and had a mid-life crisis before I figured out I wanted to work in healthcare. It was only when my wife said I wasn’t allowed any more cars or bikes, and told me I had to decide my future, that I enrolled in Skills Training Australia’s nursing course. I love it. In fact, it inspired my daughter to study nursing six months after I started!
Going back to school has been a bit of challenge because I’m not a massive fan of the books. I’m a real hands-on person and like to get stuck in and learn as I go rather than sit in a classroom and study. But doing this course has taught me that I must be able to master the theory and the practice to be a good nurse. Also, in my previous roles, I used to be the one up the front giving the lectures, not listening to them, so that’s been an adjustment. However, I don’t get in too much trouble because I really respect my teachers — they’re very experienced and good at what they do.
For me, the placements are the best thing about this course. They certainly teach you a lot about the fragile nature of life, especially when you lose patients. One guy sticks in my mind in particular — his name was Dennis and I was looking after him. He was terminally ill, yet despite his condition, he never lost his sense of humour. He was always cracking jokes and winding us up. He’d accepted he didn’t have much time left on earth and decided to make it as much fun as he could. It’s quite an amazing person who can adopt such a positive mind-frame in a very dark time. It made his death particularly hard because I’d developed such a strong bond with him and his family. That was a really crap day but it’s something you have to get used to dealing with as a nurse.
I’ve also had to deal with the fact that some people aren’t as comfortable being cared for by a man. In my experience, women from some cultures only want to be cared for by a female or a man from the same ethnic origin as they. I remember working with a Chinese patient and she was happy to be seen by my placement nursing buddy Elliot — a Chinese bloke — but not me. But saying that, I’ve also had women who’ve been surprised by me because they weren’t expecting to be treated by the incredible hulk [ha ha ha]! But once they talk to me and realise I’m a good nurse, and a big softie at heart, they soon relax. I’ve had fewer double takes with elderly patients — they’ve always seemed to be more comfortable with me. Despite offering one old dear the option of being washed by a female, she winked and said: “Don’t worry love, I lost my dignity years ago!”, before letting me help her. She was a total champ.
If I could give other blokes who are thinking about doing nursing some advice, it would be to just do it if you’re passionate about it. Don’t let negative comments or small minded people get in the way of your dreams because nursing is an awesome career with great prospects. If I’d have paid attention to some of the rubbish I heard, I’d have missed out on meeting some amazing people and doing meaningful work.
So, if you’re inspired to become a nurse then get in touch to see how we can help you get the qualifications you need to make your mark in the healthcare world.