Yes, I still feel like the title “nurse” is quite a feminine one, but I do get offended when somebody calls me a “male nurse”.

Out of the 360,000 practicing nurses in Australia, only 38,000 are men. Yannick Benoit is one of them. As a young male nurse in a still female-dominated job role, he spoke with the IPF about his current job, his journey to becoming a registered nurse, and the challenges he faced along the way.

In his own words

Tell us a bit about your journey to become a nurse…
I’m 31-years-old, so I have been a nurse since 2005. Not knowing what I wanted to do when I left school, I had a go at Law – and loathed it. It was shallow, contradictory, and boring.

My aunty suggested nursing and at first I wasn’t sure because… I was a male.

However, I felt that being in the business of healing would be fulfilling and bring me happiness and purpose. I enrolled at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, to become a registered nurse. I then felt I was on the right track as I was learning vital information that I could definitely use to help people around me.

The passion grew despite many negative experiences I felt in the profession and at university. I has time off after graduating to explore other avenues in health, but returned to nursing. I took on Emergency and Mental Health at Armadale Hospital. The team there reignited the flame that was so often dimmed during my nursing degree. They were warm, friendly and genuine, which saved my nursing vocation.

I now work with the child and adolescent health service as a Community Health Nurse at a high school. The school has 1,600 students, so I’m very busy all the time; promoting health, sex education, disease prevention, conducting psycho-social assessments, running programmes, organising health expos, case managing high needs kids, organising case conferences and health committee meetings, and the list goes on.

The work keeps coming but it’s an amazing role that fits me like a glove.

How did your family and friends react when you told them you wanted to be a nurse?

Honestly, I had mixed reactions.

My partner at the time was actually ashamed of me and said, “I don’t want a nurse as a boyfriend!”

I didn’t understand the reasoning but I knew the relationship was null and void that second. My next partner was extremely proud of me and urged me to continue nursing, despite the constant ups and downs.

He said if I quit I wouldn’t be there for others who would appreciate me – something I never thought of. This encouragement and support echoed throughout the years, and that’s why I’m still here.

This is the life! #goats #work #farming #nursing

A photo posted by Mr Africa 2015 (@yanique_sambahensnights) on

Nursing still is very female-dominated. As a male nurse, have you ever felt discriminated against (or stereotyped) at the workplace?

I’ve only felt discriminated against during my degree by other young, insecure female nurses who were meant to be my preceptors.

They didn’t like me disagreeing with them, and I felt they enjoyed watching me struggle. It took me weeks to realise that they had conspired against me. But I stuck it out for 10 weeks. They ridiculed me publicly for putting a foot wrong, but fell silent if I should get something right.

It’s very catty when you’re the only guy, but when there’s at least one other guy, you find that support, empathy and inclusion.

For me, this only happened in female-dominated wards –  like medical wards. I had to be very conscious of my tone of my voice, as some people would take my tone to mean something more aggressive than I had intended. I did become very self-conscious as a male.

However, when I moved to Emergency and Mental Health, I never had this problem, rather, I was valued and appreciated. I learned that males have a protective and assertive influence when dealing with behavioural patients who are high risk to themselves or others. However, I have also worked in an all-male clinic, and trust me – it was just as bitchy.

Men are very good at being bullies too. You need both sexes in the workplace.

What has been the best moment of your career as a nurse?

I will never forget when I worked on a psych-geriatric ward at Fremantle Hospital. There was an elderly Italian man who needed a one-to-one special for about two years. He was the sweetest man with dementia, and I loved our strange carer-patient relationship. He never paid any attention to me while I was there, and some days he was more lucid than others, but he often knew I was there. I felt an incredible father-son bond with him, and it was obvious to even his family who visited him.

When they moved him to a nursing home, they asked me to work for them privately. This was a great compliment. I did it once but it was too far away. A few weeks later I had a dream that he gave me a rose and said “thank you”. I looked at the time and it was 10am.

The dream meant a lot to me but it meant more to me the next day when his son called to say: “Thank you for looking after dad, I just wanted to let you now as I know you loved him and he loved you too, that he passed away yesterday at 10am”. I realised that’s when I dreamt of him.

What tips would you give to other young men who are thinking about starting a nursing career?

Yes, I still feel like the title “nurse” is quite a feminine one, but I do get offended when somebody calls me a “male nurse”.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you’re called. The job is what you make it. There are more men coming into the profession. It’s a job you will always be needed for. Everyone benefits when you’re a nurse. Especially your friends, family and neighbours.

Identify that, yes, you are probably one of the only males and you will think differently to females. However, this is a huge advantage for you in the profession. You have your strengths and you need to discover these in different areas of nursing.

Be aware that patients may think you’re a doctor or a physiotherapist, and clients with dementia may think you’re the prison guard. Learn to use your body language. Actions speak louder than words. If you don’t know, say it! It’s a masculine trait to keep doing the wrong thing than just admit you don’t know. Put your pride and ego aside, specially around female nurses.

We hear all the gossip and are usually roped into doing heavy tasks. It comes with the territory unfortunately. I’m also a feminist, and as a feminist I think equality is important, so I share the heavy tasks around. Don’t feel guilty about it. You’ll be lifting, pulling, reaching and doing all sorts of manual handling tasks when the orderlies are busy. Try to get to the gym and do some yoga. Strength and flexibility will help. But when you can, share the load.