The Current

An all-male nursing team made history for this St. John's charge nurse

Men account for approximately nine per cent of nurses in Canada, according to 2021 figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information. But that's beginning to shift.

Despite being a woman-dominated field, an expert says more men are joining

Eight nurses wearing medical masks stand in two rows -- two in the front, six in the back -- with their arms on each other's shoulders.
Seven nurses made history for charge nurse Mona Molloy, centre front, when her shift was staffed by an all-male team for the first time at St. John's Health Sciences Centre this month. Nurses Ryan Spear, third from the right, and Brandon Smith, far right, spoke with The Current about being men in nursing. (Registered Nurses' Union Newfoundland and Labrador)

A photo of seven nurses at a St. John's hospital is igniting conversations about gender parity in the nursing profession. 

For Mona Molloy, the charge nurse at the centre of the photo, it was the first time she led an all-male team on floor 4NB at Health Sciences Centre.

"I said, 'Boys, we have to get a picture,'" Molloy told The Current. 

"I've been at the Health Sciences since 1997, but in my 32 years I have never had a complete all-male staff for a whole entire shift." 

Ryan Spear, one of the nurses on staff that night, says it's a sign that more men are entering the industry.

"When I first started on 4 North-B, I believe there were three or four of us," said Spear. "It's just grown. More and more males [are] going in, and within nursing school as well."

"You definitely see more men."

Men account for approximately nine per cent of nurses in Canada, according to 2021 figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information. That's beginning to shift, says Peter Kellett, a registered nurse and assistant professor of nursing at the University of Lethbridge.

For decades, the profession saw only a one-per-cent annual increase in men entering the field. But now, some of Kellett's classes are 20 to 40 per cent male.

"It's not the first time that I've heard of an all-male shift, but it's quite rare on a medical or surgical unit to get an all-male shift — and, certainly a few years ago, it wouldn't have been even possible," he said.

Shedding stigma

Kellett graduated from nursing school in 1995. Even back then, he says he came up against barriers with patients who saw nursing as women's work.

"It was very common for patients to refuse to have you as a man, which certainly was their right. But it was, pretty much, an almost daily occurrence in that era," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

A man in a blue suit and patterned suit poses in front of trees.
Peter Kellett is a registered nurse and assitant professor of nursing at the University of Lethbridge. (Kasseys Photography)

There is also a perception that nursing is a lesser profession than being a doctor — something he still encounters.

"I was just asked the other day by somebody why I didn't choose medicine," said Kellett. "I think it's really related to sort of those longstanding patriarchal beliefs in society which assigned caregiving, particularly physical caregiving, to the realm of women."

But that stigma is beginning to shift.

Spear says male nurses are "equally as trained, equally as skilled," compared to their female colleagues.

"I would say the majority of the time, patients are just as comfortable with male nurses compared to female nurses," added Brandon Smith, one of Spear's colleagues on staff during that all-male shift and who posed as part of the photo.

Exciting, 'hands-on' job

Kellett hopes that bringing attention to the experiences of men in nursing will spur even greater interest in the profession, particularly as the country faces a critical shortage of nurses. 

According to 2021 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 9 per cent of nurses are men. (Minerva Studio/Shutterstock)

Both Spear and Smith call it an exciting, "hands-on" job with lots of flexibility and room for growth.

"I think people are making the choice because strategically it is also a good job which pays well and has a lot of flexibility," said Kellett.

The Lethbridge professor is hopeful that in time, nursing will be home to as many men as women. But first, the language used needs to change.

"You talk about male nurses. Well, we're nurses, and the fact that we're assigning 'male' to it is making us an oddity," said Kellett.

"We have to gradually shift that image that whenever somebody thinks of a nurse, that it's always a woman."

Produced by Brianna Gosse and Samantha Lui.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now