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Pioneering male midwife tells of fighting prejudice

HE was not just a man in a woman's world.

LEADING THE WAY: Stuart Hislop was the first male midwife in Scotland when he started in the job in the early 1980s, and says he encountered prejudice from those who felt it was 'not job for a man'.
LEADING THE WAY: Stuart Hislop was the first male midwife in Scotland when he started in the job in the early 1980s, and says he encountered prejudice from those who felt it was 'not job for a man'.

Stuart Hislop was the first Scotsman to start work as a midwife in Scotland.

Now, after more than 30 years in nursing – a career in which women still outnumber men by almost nine to one – he has spoken out about prejudice against male nurses.

In an interview to mark his retirement this week, Mr Hislop encouraged other men who can see "beyond the prejudices" to train as nurses and midwives.

He said: "I think there are a lot of gaps for really capable men to forge an excellent career and I would encourage anyone who sees beyond the prejudices they may experience to think about pursuing a nursing or midwifery job because the rewards are so high."

The latest figures show that while it is more common in England, there are just six male midwives working in Scotland today.

Back in the early 1980s when he decided to train as a midwife, Mr Hislop said there were still questions raised about fathers being present at births, let alone other men. However, he felt strongly that the baby belonged to the man as well as the woman. He said that for all there may be unpleasant moments during delivery, the few moments after the baby arrives are "magical".

He experienced this for the first time himself as a student nurse when he was based in an operating theatre and was told to "go and look after the baby" following a Caesarean section.

Mr Hislop said: "I went along (to the incubator) with a bit of anxiety, but the baby was thankfully full of facial expressions. I watched this baby and the moment was electrifying, because it was a real person. I learned that babies are not just a bag of reflexes. I was mesmerised that a few moments before this baby was tucked up inside, and now it had this facial expression saying 'what happened?' I remember thinking 'I want to be part of this'."

Driven also by an ambition to try different areas of nursing so he could later train nurses himself, he went on to apply for a midwifery course in Forth Valley. He says two other men trained with him, but one went to London and the other started a couple of days after him.

Mr Hislop found patients and staff were very happy to accept him – only two women have asked for a female to perform a procedure instead of him in his whole career. The parents that he got to know were often interested in chatting about his job. However, outside work, he encountered sneers. Mr Hislop said: "I certainly sensed a hostile attitude along the lines of 'It is not a real job for a man'. I used to think these people are so ignorant and silly. It made me want to promote the profession. I wondered why people were a bit sarcastic and unthinking about what they would say."

Now, 61, Mr Hislop said he knows from colleagues that male nurses still encounter this attitude, particularly when their jobs involve care of the elderly.

His memories of his career are happy, though. From the day he correctly spotted that a 19-year-old mother was ready to give birth even though she had not been in labour long, to the night when he delivered seven babies in one shift.

Mr Hislop, who has two sons himself, says he delivered about 80 babies during his career.

He moved into nurse training in 1983, as planned, and was working for Stirling University before he retired last week.

Norman Provan, associate director for employment relations with the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: "The characteristics that make a good nurse are not gender-specific and, personally speaking, as a male nurse of 30 years, I've always been proud to tell people I'm a nurse."

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