Top of page

Is it Gender Equal? postgraduate study and career development for nurses

Tags: The Opinions, Equality, Nursing, Taneal Wiseman

‘It seems that our female nurses are almost forced to make a choice between their career and their family and I cannot help but wonder how many male nurses are required to make such a choice’

Caring professions are often undertaken by females, and perhaps this is based on the long-standing suggestion that females are more nurturing than males. While the following careers are being better promoted to males, it remains that even today females make up the majority of the workforce in professions such as teaching, nursing, and childcare. If we look back over the past ten years in each of these professions, we see major changes and developments. In nursing specifically, we see changes in technology and injury prevention, advances in clinical knowledge, and developments in disease understanding.  In Australia, registered nurses are required to complete either a bachelor or a masters of nursing in order to qualify for their professional registration. This entails up to 3 years of full time equivalent tertiary study to be eligible to be a registered nurse.  Once registered and working in the clinical environment, our nurses are not only encouraged but rightly expected to be lifelong learners. In fact; they must prove that they are continuing to engage in learning in order to retain their registration year after year.  While some of this learning can be done remotely and in flexible hours, a large majority of post graduate nursing study is done through tertiary institutions where students are required to attend lectures and teaching sessions on set days and at set times posing challenges for those nurses with carer responsibilities.

Registered nurses are not only clinicians, but they are caregivers, advocates, and organisers to name a few roles. Nurses make a positive difference to the individual patient; the health service and universal health promotion and they make up the largest portion of the Australian health workforce.   It is a well-known fact that while females represent the majority of the nursing workforce they are under-represented in positions of leadership in nursing. There are a number of contributing factors to this including maternity leave, newborn and child care, part time work and subsequent pauses in career development.  I look back over my career and while I do not regret the time spent with my children in their formative years, I see how evident this was.  Male nurses that I taught and played a preceptor role for in their new graduate positions were in leadership positions on my return from maternity leave. I had been a 3rd and 4th year registered nurse when they started their career and now they were my superiors and I had returned to the same position I had been in when I left to have our babies. The only difference was that I was now part time which further reduced my career development opportunities and further education options.

This pattern of stagnating career development and further education opportunities has not only been evident for me in my career, but it has also been evident in some of the post graduate students I have had the privilege of teaching. Some have almost completed their post graduate studies when they have been forced to postpone due to pregnancy or carer responsibilities for newborns, toddlers and even school aged children.  It is a frustrating pattern faced by our registered nurses when so many career advancement opportunities require further studies.  It seems that our female nurses are almost forced to make a choice between their career and their family and I cannot help but wonder how many male nurses are required to make such a choice.

So, how do we shift this culture? How do registered nurses who are of child bearing or child rearing age navigate the challenge of primary carer, shift worker, career advancement and the expectations of ongoing learning? How do we foster career development in this cohort as they strive to promote their career and be their professional best in this ever changing and developing line of work?  

I do not know the answer to these questions, but I know from personal experience that it is possible and now is the time to shift this culture in order to ensure all our registered nurses, both male and female are given equal career development and educational opportunities.

Written by Taneal Wiseman . Taneal is an acute care lecturer at Sydney University. She has a PhD, extensive acute care nursing experience and 3 amazing children. 

Images used are sourced from