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Be a man - nursing from a male perspective

Photo: Hugh Churchward
In the almost 24 years that Hugh Churchward has been a nurse, he’s seen some major changes around how society views male nurses.

“The assumption that a nurse will be a female has definitely changed,” says Mr Churchward.
 
“And there is also not the assumption that as a male nurse you are probably gay, which was truer when I started my course.”

Although Mr Churchward grew up in an environment dominated by the medical profession – his father a GP, his sister a nurse and his brother a pharmacist – nursing wasn’t an automatic career choice.

“I was living in a squat in London in 1991, surviving on about $150 per week, and had done labouring for several months on a building site, and this was the impetus to start thinking about other options.
“Someone mentioned nursing … and the idea started to fit like a well-worn pair of shoes.

“There was always talk about medical things around the table.

“I had also been interested in anatomy for many years and had more recently become
interested in psychology and psychotherapy.

“All of this contributed.

“I also realised that with a nursing degree I could travel pretty much anywhere which in my early 20s was a pretty appealing option.”

Once Mr Churchward commenced his studies, he knew he’d made the right choice.

“I discovered my love of learning and the subject matter as well as the way it was
integrated into health made a lot of sense to me.

“I was 26 when I started and I finally got how to write an essay, how to construct an argument, how to reference properly and it was a revelation.

“The fact we were given a bursary and subsidised accommodation took away the
financial pressures which allowed me to dedicate a lot of time to my studies.

“My training was more of a humanities-based training as opposed to heavy in science with a big emphasis on sociology, psychology as well as anatomy and physiology and patho-physiology. This really helped me frame how I approached nursing at the time and still does.”

Combining part-time nursing with part-time psychotherapy work, most of Mr Churchward’s nursing roles have been as a general Registered Nurse.

“This has been working in both a ward setting and within an outpatients department.

“My ‘career’ started with casual nursing – I needed to be able to have a break after studying
for the 3 years but still have some money coming in.

“I then did a 9 month stint in a ward of a major London hospital before coming back to Australia.

“I worked casually once arriving back before working for 2 years in a permanent part time position in a palliative care unit.”

Since then Mr Churchward has enjoyed a career which has included a mix of part-time permanent positions and casual, allowing him the flexibility to continue to study.

“Since returning to Australia I have also studied which is generally why I worked part time –
at least initially.

“I did a 5 year somatic psychotherapy training course which has also contributed to how I approach my nursing.

“Much of my nursing has been in palliative care, oncology and haematology. I also had an extended role as an apheresis nurse for several years.”

For Mr Churchward, the most appealing thing about nursing is the relationships formed.

“Especially with the patients.

“I also enjoy the teamwork aspect of the job but of course that depends on who one is working with – that can be one of the most frustrating things about the job also.

“I also love the problem solving one has to do in the role – even down to the dance of organising one’s day when it is really busy.”

Over the course of his career, Mr Churchward says he’s consistently encountered around 1 male nurse in every 7, within each of the places he’s worked.

“I have always given patients – especially women – the option of whether they would prefer a female.

“Especially if it’s around showering, going to the toilet or catheters.

“There is very little time where it has been an issue.

“That is probably not so true in the outpatient’s department where we sometimes have to catheterise – I will generally get the female nurses to do that.

“It feels different than on the ward, but I have not really put it to the test given there are enough females around who can do it.”

Although it’s rare, on occasion Mr Churchward has been asked to swap with a female nurse, but he says he’s totally fine with those sorts of requests.

“If a patient has said something – prior to me asking or if I had not asked – I generally have apologised for not checking and saying that’s fine before getting someone else.

“I have never had a problem with that.”

To young men considering nursing as a career option, Mr Churchward says to go for it.

“Be clear about where you would like to go and work towards it.

“But don’t be in a rush and enjoy the day to day aspects of the job – you’ll learn a lot about people, relationships and how things work.

“Don’t be too ideological and driven but rather take the time to listen and learn.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.