We spoke to Admiral Nurse Joe Costello on his thoughts on getting more men into nursing

October 15, 2019

There has been a recent surge in male school leavers applying to study nursing but there is still an overall drop in men in nursing posts. Is this an isolated incident or part of a move toward long-term change?

Admiral Nurse Joe Costello talks about his route into nursing and also what more needs to be done to encourage more male nursing applicants.


No one really knows what a particular career is going to be like before you start it. You have all these preconceptions and then they’re knocked for six.

It all kicked off for me with my nurse training. This amounted to a three-year diploma, with the first 18 months gaining experience of nursing disciplines such as midwifery and supporting people with nursing disabilities. If you want to specialise in mental health, you become a Registered Mental Health Nurse at first. From there, you decide where you want to practice.

Joe Costello

I was passionate about wanting to care for older people experiencing mental health issues. Mental health nursing is full of different opportunities, with roles including staff nurse positions working in mental health settings for adults, services for children, forensic services and community mental health rehabilitation settings. These roles are seen across the NHS, private healthcare and charity sectors. I think it’s this diversity in roles which should propel many more male nurses to enter the field.

Perceptions

One of the key issues around gender parity in nursing is the perceptions people have around nursing as a career. The general perception of nursing is providing personal care to people in need and whilst this is undoubtedly still an importance facet of nursing, there is so much more to it than that. As a mental health nurse specialising in dementia care, I’m all for ensuring that the person is seen in their totality, looking at their past experiences and memories as well as their needs, rights and wishes. It is as much a counselling role as it is a management role. When I sit with families and uncover the challenges they may be facing, I truly find out who someone is – it’s not just an operation.

If we unpick this a little further, there is often a stereotype around general nurses and how a man would fit into this role. I’ve heard some people saying that men don’t talk about emotions, or they don’t enter mental health nursing because they’re dealing with issues which they can’t necessarily touch or feel, or they simply wouldn’t have the patience to deal with complex issues.

In my opinion, I think a lot of these preconceptions are driven by people not thinking they have the right skills for a particular post. In order to counter this, we must invest in training for prospective as well as current nurses, and give male nurses the skills they need to make a life-long career out of nursing. It’s about encouraging current nurses to give talks in schools and for the nursing community to have more of a presence in male academies. This allows people to see that there are so many routes into nursing. For example, you don’t have to do a degree as there are options to do nursing apprenticeships where an employer will pay for you to study nursing.

Mentoring and inspiration

We should also be making the case for introducing more mentorship programmes. I ended up taking the Preparation for the Role of Mentor postgraduate module. For me it took about four months to complete and meant that I could upskill myself. I’ve personally mentored many students and I know what they need is a role model. I continue to be inspired by many role models in nursing with Dementia UK’s CEO and Chief Admiral Nurse, Dr. Hilda Hayo, inspiring nurses to be the best they can be in their fields of practice.

Whilst it’s great to hear that more school leavers are applying for the role of nursing, we should be continuing momentum. My advice to school leavers is to visit various nursing environments both in hospitals and the community to see the work that is taking place there. You can talk to nurses about the challenges and opportunities in the nursing profession as well as to patients to listen to how nurses have influenced their care and treatment.

The wider nursing community has come on leaps and bounds as well.  I’ve seen that experienced nurses are referred to by titles such as Clinical Leads or Service Managers. These nursing roles capture the skills and experience of nurses without referring to their gender or background, which is a significant development.

However, conversations around attracting a broad base of people with an array of specialisms to nursing absolutely still need to continue. In my field of mental health nursing and dementia care, this is really important as you’re providing meaningful care and support to so many diverse families and relationships.

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