“Why can’t we just love everyone the same and judge them by the car they drive instead?” – Ellen DeGeneras

Hold on to your ovaries, I have a confession to make. I am not a feminist. A bold statement indeed, but what has this got to do with research? Well, this month I’d like to talk about purposive sampling.

Generally speaking, researchers are encouraged to enroll participants from a population sample that is varied so that results are more generalisable or transferable. Essentially, this means that if we conducted a research study using only white, British women, we would not necessarily be able to say with a huge amount of confidence that those results also applied to black, African males. However, there are times when purposive sampling is encouraged. This involves targeting a particular group of people with certain characteristics because they represent the people who will be impacted by the research. As an example, if we were testing tampons, we would only want women between the ages of 12(ish) and 50(ish) because our black African male cannot be of much help to us here.

Purposive sampling has to be used with caution though, both in research and in everyday life. In research, an inappropriate purposive sample can call into question the applicability of any results, potentially invalidating a whole study. In everyday life, it can alienate or devalue other groups of people and is often known as “positive discrimination”. This is the process of hiring individuals who possess protected characteristics and is actually illegal in the UK. However, there are ways that companies can help minority groups to access employment which is beneficial over other groups.

This is quite topical at the moment because you may have noticed a stirring in the nursing world. Not a huge explosion, but definitely more than a sleepy stretch. The stirring is called “gender equality”. In among the #MeToo movements, the gender pay gap declarations and the urge to “lean in”, nursing has flown under the radar as an 89% female profession. There is no doubt in my mind that if nursing was an 89% male profession, this would not have gone unnoticed and I would bet my last rolo that the scathing retorts from morally righteous illiberal liberals of both genders would put it down to lack of access, off putting “boys club” mentality or unworkable hours that Mothers cannot commit to. But this is different. What’s keeping men away from nursing? The answer is simple, but it raises several more complex issues. Men, generally speaking, think that nursing is a girly job. That’s it. Let’s examine this in more detail

Current gender equality rhetoric would suggest that in order to demonstrate equality in the nursing profession, we need more men to join. We need to purposively sample them. And now that we know that the main reason men don’t want to be nurses is that they perceive it to be a girly job, then the obvious solution would be to make it look less girly. This approach has been employed in other professions where the perception is that a woman is entering a masculine environment, such as engineering, orthopaedic surgery or software design. The difference here though is that it was the environment that was perceived as masculine rather than the job itself.

It has been suggested by the likes of the RCN and some nursing journals that nursing, as a profession, could change some of the outdated titles like Sister or Matron, which have an inherently female tone. Even the name “nursing” is derived from nursing a baby, another wholly female pursuit. But, to use modern vernacular, this approach has #MissedThePoint. The titles mean very little in the grand scheme of things. None of the men have said that they don’t want to be nurses because they object to being called Sister. The issue appears to be around the job itself. This requires an entirely new marketing strategy that shows nursing as more than a hand holding, bottom washing, shoulder-to-cry on sort of job. Except, it is all of those things. It’s also so much more than those things. But denying or playing down any part of the nursing role is to do a disservice to our profession and our identity as well as encouraging people, male or female, to come into the profession for the wrong reasons.

So, if rebranding isn’t the the way forward, what is? Do nothing. The way forward is to accept that nursing is the job that it is. Take it or leave it.  We hold hands with our patients, we interpret their investigation data, we administer complex treatments, we help people wash themselves, we clean up their vomit, we do chest compressions and we give advice. And so much more. It’s OK for men and women to be different and to want to do different things with their careers. There should be no barriers to entry at any level for either gender, and the same goes for race and age, but neither should we purposively sample from a population just so that we can tick the equality box. If we do, then we run the risk of invalidating our profession as one which is somehow currently inferior or incomplete.

We will never have true equality until we learn to value our differences without seeking to label them. I work with male nurses, African nurses, old nurses, young nurses, Filipino nurses and disabled nurses. The collective noun for such a varied group of individuals is: Nurses.

Equal, not the same. I am equalist, not a feminist. Purposively.


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