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15 June, 2022

The men behind the mask

Men’s health is in the spotlight this week and as Australians celebrate national Men’s Health Week, Express journalist RHYS THOMAS spoke to male nurses at the Atherton Hospital about their experiences, passion and love for their job.

By Rhys Thomas

Atherton hospital male nurses Colin Newnham, Peter Chapman and Mal Fraser with patient Peter Fox.

NURSING typically isn’t the top pick for many men looking to find a career, however some men have chosen to take on the job of caring for others in hospitals, aged care homes, clinics and more. 

Statistics show that male nurses make up only around 12 per cent of the registered nursing workforce in Australia, however those numbers are starting to rise as awareness of men’s health comes to the fore. 

Helping to break down those barriers is the key goal and theme for this year’s Men’s Health Week, from 14- 20 June, as men challenge the stigmas around men’s health, both as patients and as workers. 

Mal conducting some tests with patient Albert Ray in his home.

Tolga’s Mal Fraser is the most experienced male nurse at Atherton Hospital and is regarded as one of the most well known and well respected in his field. 

His mother’s love for the nursing profession was the driving force behind Mal turning to healthcare as he aimed to follow in her footsteps. 

“I knew from an early age that I wanted to do something in healthcare, my mother was a nurse and we immigrated from England where she had been an infectious diseases nurse,” he said. 

“In those days she used to take me with her on trips and she is still my inspiration today – she is 98 and has encouraged my professional career – she was one of the reasons why I saw nursing as a career pathway.” 

  “It is a natural thing, a man can talk to another man but you are a bit embarrassed talking to women on some subjects. I feel very comfortable with Mal and he is a pleasure to have in your house” Albert Ray, 94  

Mal’s speciality is in primary healthcare with a specialty in men’s health, a field in which he has three post-graduate degrees. 

“In the mid to late 80s I was working as a community health nurse in Cairns and there was a guy named Richard Fletcher doing a tour around Australia, he was talking about the disparity in men’s health versus women’s health,” Mal said. 

“I recall at the time I said to the manager, ‘who looks after men’s health around here’ and she said, ‘you do now’. 

“I went and listened to this guy and I thought, yeah this is something that as a nurse and as a male, I could have a significant contribution to.” 

During this time, Mal also opted to do midwifery, being only one of four males undertaking the course out of a group of 34. 

“I went and did my midwifery because I thought, guys are really struggling with how they can support their partners and their newborn babies,” he said. 

“I then went into the Cancer Council and worked there for 14 years and supported a lot of men either dealing with cancer or seeing their partners suffering from cancer.

“Being a male and a nurse, there was that connection and I was able to support men and perhaps understand better – they felt comfortable discussing their concerns with me as a male.” 

Mal is employed as a generalist community health nurse and was instrumental in the success of the award-winning men’s health program with the Atherton Men’s Shed. 

With 45 years working as a nurse across Australia and spending the latter part in the far north, Mal said the last five to 10 years had been his most rewarding. 

“I have had some wonderful points in my career however I have never been so happy as I am here in Atherton and one of the reasons for that is I work with a great team, I am the only male and feel I can enjoy the rewards of all those years of experience,” he said. 

“I feel very comfortable in my decision making, I feel very supported and I can use that knowledge and experience to make a real impact on patient care. 

“This has been highlighted by the work we do in men’s health which has been my passion for 20 years – to work alongside colleagues who support and encourage my passion is a wonderful position to be in.”

    “I feel a better connection working with a male nurse, they understand you – I can talk to Mal about anything. I think it is an excellent thing seeing males working as nurses” Peter Fox, 40    

Working with Mal at the Atherton Hospital is Peter Chapman and Colin Newnham, two male nurses who are fresh to the job and have had other careers before they settled on nursing. 

Peter had his first experience in healthcare through his family’s business, assisting people with disabilities while they were on holiday. 

“I had a friend’s wife who is a registered nurse here at Atherton suggest that I try doing some assistant nursing. 

“I did and I found that I really liked it and I watched the EN’s (enrolled nurse) and RN’s (registered nurse) on the ward where I worked do their jobs and I thought I could do that, so I enrolled in uni.” 

At the age of 36, Peter started his university course while working as an AIN at Carinya in Atherton and it was there that Peter’s current career was cemented in his mind. 

“I had not expected to love going to work so much – with all those jobs before there was never one I ever had that I looked forward to going to work every single day,” he said. 

Atherton Hospital RN Peter Chapman

Peter has since graduated and has been working at the Atherton Hospital for just under one and a half years as a RN. 

Colin came into the nursing industry as a late bloomer, having extensive experience and background in the hotel industry, knowledge which he brings to his role as acting ward manager for the surgical and oncology wards in Atherton.

Colin started his nursing studies in 2014 when he was in his 30s and has been working as a clinical nurse for four and a half years. 

Due to his prior experience in management, Colin was given the responsibility of managing both the surgical and oncology wards in the Atherton Hospital, a role that combines clinical and leadership skills. 

“You can cross into the management side of nursing, it is not all about clinical skills when it comes to the management side of things – it is just managing people and managing a team,” he said. 

The passing of Colin’s niece and mother-in-law during his studies really solidified his decision and passion for the palliative and holistic side of nursing. 

“When I did my training in palliative care, it was all about the holistic side of nursing, it is pretty much the number one thing for palliative care or end-of-life nursing,” he said. 

“It is all about person-centred care and for me, that is what summed me up as a nurse, my biggest focus is patient-centred care and that cemented me going forward in my nursing career.” 

Atherton Hospital Acting Ward Manager Colin Newnham

 Mal, Peter and Colin are but three of many male nurses across Australia who work tirelessly to keep Australians happy and healthy and this week – we acknowledge and thank them for their selfless care.  

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