A young male nurse lifted the lid on sexism and ageism in the workplace during an emotional and inspiring address to delegates at the Queensland Nurses Union’s (QNU) annual conference in Brisbane in July.
A recent graduate, 24-year-old registered nurse Josh Simmons-Bliss said he felt compelled to open the dialogue surrounding issues of discrimination against junior nurses after responding to a call by the QNU for graduates to share their positive and negative experiences on entering the profession.
In a passionate address, Josh also touched on broader issues surrounding bullying and being personally discriminated against for being openly gay. He claimed graduates were looked down upon due to a perceived lack of experience and disregarded when attempting to draw attention to errors occurring within workplaces.
Significantly, Josh said sexism in nursing was a genuine issue and that just two months ago a senior nurse on his ward told him to erase any ambitions of becoming a clinical nurse because of his gender. “My gender, my sexuality, how old I am or how I look has no impact on how I work on the ward. It shouldn’t be considered. Yet that’s what I was being judged on. Not how well I worked as a team player. Not how competent I was. But I got profiled as a certain character and that’s what I was judged on.”
Similarly, he added that openly identifying as a male gay nurse had caused him issues personally. “Sometimes it cannot be heard or seen, it can only be felt,” he said of the discrimination.
Josh believes the saying “nurses eat their young” rings true, with infighting and undermining rife, and added that change was long overdue.
“It was strongly felt between all graduates that because of our ‘juniority’, people were making snide remarks, people were looking down upon us, not respecting us, and they were open about it. They didn’t want to work with us. They thought we were a liability,” he recounted of his experiences.
“It [change] needs to start with how we treat our junior nurses. That’s where it needs to begin. It will be nurses like myself who in 20 years time will be here directing and aligning the union’s agenda and who will be in leadership roles at hospitals. We have an obligation to groom our junior nurses to be strong and caring and to work together and be united, because at the moment we just want to kill each other.”
As part of his speech, Josh also advocated for increased student education days for graduates and improved communication between young nurses and department managers.
His visible passion for shedding light on the often unspoken issue received widespread support from delegates of the conference, with dozens of people seeking him out afterwards to express their support.
He counts himself as a leader within his workplace and said the support has spurred him on to continue to push for change and help empower new graduates in becoming self-assured, confident and resilient nurses. “It’s made me more motivated to speak up about it because it strongly resonated with people. People have told me that they’ve been crying. They’ve come up to me and said I have a gay son, he’s also a nurse, or I’m a male nurse. It had a very positive response. I didn’t think that would happen, but obviously I’ve touched something.”
This story was first published in the August issue of the ANMJ (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal). Members of all state and territory nursing and midwifery unions can access the Journal online.