13 September 2013

Gender problems

MUNICH, Bavaria, Germany—“Don’t you have a gender problem?” I was asked as I sat down to dinner in a Munich restaurant last night. I thanked the questioner—a distinguished Austrian physician—for his concern, prodded myself in all the appropriate places, and assured him that all was well in the gender department. The Germans and Austrians do have a sense of humour!

What my colleague was referring to was nursing. In German, there is no word to denote a man in nursing. The German word for nurse—“krankenschwester”— is a feminine noun. Spain and Italy simply had to change “enfermería” and “infermiera,” respectively, to “-o” endings to indicate masculinity, but this is not an option in German. Gendered nouns mostly fell into disuse in English centuries ago so, while we tend to associate nursing with women, the word itself is neutral.

Bernd Reuschenbach
I was in Munich to address the 47th Kongress für Allgemeinmedizin (general practice) und Familienmedizin (family medicine) this morning. The theme of the conference was “Komplexität in der Allgemeinmedizin-Herausforderungen und Chancen,” essentially “complexity in care.” I am here at the invitation of Bernd Reuschenbach, a lecturer in psychology at Katholische Stiftungsfachhochschule München (the Catholic Foundation University of Munich) and Antonius Schneider, chair of general practice at Technische Universität München. Reuschenbach is engaged here in nursing education, and Schneider was one of the main conference organisers.

Antonius Schneider
The title of my presentation was “Nurses and doctors can and should work together.” Addressing the issues of complexity and interprofessionalism, I tried to illustrate the advanced and specialist roles that nurses play in some parts of Europe and the United States. Such developments are only starting in Germany, and the question-and-answer session was challenging, to say the least. I learned that I should stop referring to “the UK and Europe.” as if the UK is not part of Europe. I was asked, if nursing took over a range of advanced roles, what would be left for doctors to do, and could nurses replace general practitioners (family doctors).

“Of course not,” I replied. In answer to what was left for doctors to do, I answered, “Diagnosis, that’s what you’re trained for.”

I thought I had gotten away with it, but someone approached me afterward to say she was “astonished” (not in a good way) about the things happening around interprofessional learning in the UK that I had seemingly ignored. It was maybe a lesson to be more thorough in the future, but I also warned her that what many people say they are doing is not, necessarily, what they are actually doing.

On a lighter note, I was linked up to a mobile tie-clip microphone. When I visited the washroom, the microphone was still turned on, and you can guess the rest. Further demonstration that the Germans have a sense of humour.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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