You will remember on Monday I was planning on inspiring a group of teenage boys to consider Nursing as a career.
I have worked with children for the past 25 years, so you would expect that I would understand how teenagers react to something that is new and maybe challenges their view of the world. Well I would have thought that too, but no I didn’t. For some reason in my head I had them all having a light bulb moment, and thanking me for raising their awareness and asking me where they sign up. I imagined my self being the Robin Williams character in ‘The Dead Poet’s Society’, but no one stood on their desk and shouted “Captain, my Captain….” with me staring wistfully into the near distance, with the hint of a tear in my eye. Who was I kidding!
Twelve boys came to my lunchtime tutorial/assembly. I thought to myself wow, that is a really good response. I then looked at them and saw twelve sets of arms crossed and 12 sets of eyes looking at me (not in a good way). Do you remember that feeling that I described I had before my Rotary Club talk? Well this was like that but slightly more terrifying (teenagers are way more intimidating than 60-70 year olds). My mouth went dry and all my plans went flying out of the window. I reminded myself, that I knew my subject, I knew what i wanted to achieve, so just step off and go for it. So I did, they sat there and listened very politely to me. Then I asked them what would stop them considering to be a nurse. I was met with a wave of silence. My initial reaction was to throw my marker pen on the floor and run. But I am a professional, so I stood firm, and held the silence, I held it for slightly longer than is comfortable, the silence was broken, and thankfully it was not broken by one of the teachers present in the room. A young man proclaimed that Nursing is for girls, then another boy stated it was not as good as being a doctor. All the expected, yet still very depressing gender stereotypes came flowing. I noticed that there was only 3-4 boys that were contributing, but that was fine as they were playing their part well. So I wrote down all that they were saying on the white board.
Lunch arrived, it then became abundantly clear why the silent majority in the room were there. That did make me smile, and I must admit the samosas were really nice. Whilst they were enjoying their free lunch I invited them to think about a man that they looked up to (a role model). The same 4 took part the rest ate their sandwiches and samosas and stared out of the window (the room did have lovely big windows, perfect for staring out of to be fair). Once they had finished eating I wrote down some of the attributes they thought were worth aspiring to. Then I asked them if they were ill, what attributes they would expect from a nurse. I got the obvious sexist wise crack, although it was toned down. “She has to be good-looking”. I agreed it helps if your nurse is good-looking whether that nurse is male or female, they should have a friendly look on there face, be smart and well presented, so yes good looking is very important. I mentioned that because I was quite proud of my adult response to a teenager clearly trying to wind me up. They then listed some very useful attributes, that they have to be kind, caring, hardworking, etc.
We then looked at the lists I had produced. I went through the barriers to becoming a nurse and corrected some assumptions, such as salary and some of the activities that nurses can now do. We then had a look at the attributes of their role models, and wondered if any of those would be useful to a nurse, and then some of the attributes of a nurse and whether they would be out-of-place as attributes of their role models, such as being strong-minded, clever, hardworking, physically strong, kind, a listener.
I left them with a question. “If a female friend of yours told you they wanted to be an engineer would you think it strange?”
Over half the room couldn’t wait to get out of there, clearly thinking, ‘well that is 30 minutes I will never get back….’
I was never going to get more than that response from boys who have never considered nursing as a career. That is fine, I was probably the first person to challenge some of their assumptions on careers and gender. It is so important that these unhelpful and quite frankly harmful assumptions about what men can and cannot do is challenged. Otherwise we a just putting our young people in boxes and not giving them a chance to explore all the options that they have before them.