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Men in the service of humanity: Sociocultural perceptions of the nursing profession in South Africa

S Shakwane


Background. The classification of nursing as a female-gendered profession, along with patriarchally determined cultural gender roles, makes it difficult for men to select nursing as a career and to excel in their caring capacity as nurses.
Objective. To gain in-depth insights into and an understanding of male nursing students’ perceptions of the nursing profession.
Methods. A generic qualitative approach, which was explorative, descriptive and contextual, was used to conduct the study. Sixteen male nursing students at two nursing education institutions in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, were purposively sampled to participate in the study. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and unstructured observation. Thereafter, thematic analysis was used to analyse the data.
Results. Three main themes were developed from the interview data. The participants perceived nursing as the extension of women’s work, with low social status ‒ nursing is not considered to be a profession for men. During the provision of nursing care, feelings of discomfort and embarrassment were experienced. They feared misinterpretation of their care, especially when caring for the naked body when alone with a patient. They resorted to the use of cautious caring, where they do not provide physical care alone, but seek support, especially from female nurses.
Conclusion. Male nursing students require role models to support them in their academic journey towards becoming competent practitioners. A male-friendly environment should be created to enable them to provide quality nursing care to all patients. The society needs to be empowered in understanding that men choose the nursing profession to provide care, and that they are capable of caring for the sick.

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