Men In Nursing: Accepted Without Bias
The day will come when gender descriptors are irrelevant
Although women largely dominate the ranks of the nursing profession, men have always comprised at least some portion of the nursing workforce. For example, in times long past, military men filled the role of the nurse on the battlefield. However, by the early 1900s, nursing schools were only accepting women and until after the Korean War, the U.S. Army and Navy Nursing Corps only admitted female personnel.
While both the media and the general public’s image of the quintessential nurse is still a woman in a white uniform and cap, the notion of the male nurse is no longer as foreign as it was a few decades ago. Recent surveys indicate that the percentage of male nurses in the U.S. has climbed from about 3 percent in 1970 to as much as 9.6 percent today. As the number of men within the profession has grown, so too has their acceptance within the nursing world.
WHAT TO CALL US
When perusing articles written by nurses who are men, the importance of nomenclature becomes clear. While the term “male nurse” is widely used, some men who are nurses resent being identified based on gender, preferring to simply be called “nurses.”
On social media, there has been a recent trend of male nurses choosing to be identified as “murses,” although it’s difficult to imagine this rather tongue-in-cheek amalgamation being widely adopted beyond its current fringe usage.
For better or worse, it’s clear that the term “male nurse” will likely remain in wide circulation. As with women who work as police officers or construction workers, gender tends to become the principal identifier when an individual enters a profession largely populated by the opposite gender. Fortunately, as men become more prevalent in the field, the need for gender descriptors is likely to decrease.
SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE
Why do men choose to become nurses? The reasons are as varied as the men who work in the positions.
Randy Staib, RN, is a clinical shift manager in telemetry and oncology at AHMC Anaheim Regional Medical Center. He says that early in his work life he worked in a hospital housekeeping department and had observed the nursing staff. “I’d always envied the nurses because they were so intelligent and had jobs that meant something,” he says. “They cared for people and healed the sick. I mean, what’s not to like about that?”
Contrary to popular belief, many men like to be nurturers as much as women do, which is often a factor in the decision to become a nurse. Staib, a self-described fitness fanatic who just completed a mud run (“exhilarating!”) reports that he is grateful to be a caregiver. “I loved having the time to give total care patients what they deserved by bathing them, washing their hair and performing other nurturing tasks that nobody has time for,” he says.
Unfortunately, some male nurses encounter hostility, derogatory remarks and occasionally even outright refusal of their care simply because they are men.
“Men are sometimes given more difficult assignments by virtue of their being male,” Staib explains. “I’ve been on both ends of this. I’ve been told outright that I was given the difficult patient because I’m a man and the patient will treat me better — which in most cases isn’t true. Difficult is difficult. People are still conditioned to believe that men will handle these better, which of course is nonsense.”
However, it’s not uncommon for male nurses to internalize those attitudes. “I think I’m personally guilty of a bias in that I expect a male nurse to ‘man up’ and take the harder assignment,” Staib admits.
Not all male nurses face overt discrimination. Peter Alawode, RN, BSN, CRRN, PHN, a rehabilitation nurse at Casa Colina Rehabilitation Center in Pomona, says he has not experienced any direct negative bias as a male nurse. While he says that male nurses are often relied upon for their upper body strength for transfers and lifting, his own career has been relatively free of discrimination.
“Among my colleagues, I find no direct bias,” Alawode says. “The profession is certainly dominated by women, but I feel well-treated and respected.”
“I’m happy to say that I believe people in healthcare are generally results-oriented, liking you or not based on how well you do the job,” adds Staib. “Maybe the only preferential treatment I see is when people mistake me for a doctor. But that still doesn’t get me into the doctor’s lounge.”
“SMART ENOUGH TO BE A DOCTOR”
In the author’s own experience, some of the most derogatory statements male nurses hear are aspersions on their intelligence and competency: implications that a man only became a nurse because he wasn’t able to get into medical school.
Sometimes, such comments are presented as backhanded compliments that deride the nursing profession itself. I’ve heard people comment that I seem intelligent enough to be a doctor, insinuating that nurses have less intellectual capacity than doctors. Such statements reflect a cultural bias that certainly begs correction.
Speaking of bias, Alawode notes that doctors also behave differently with male nurses. “In my experience, male and female doctors listen better to male nurses,” he says. “Of course, being prepared helps to make the conversation between doctor and nurse smoother, but doctors in general definitely listen more openly to male nurses.”
While male nurses may face the occasional derogatory comment because of their gender, men often climb the nursing ladder — especially into management and executive positions — more quickly and easily than women do. There are also disproportionate numbers of male nurses in better-paying specialty positions like nurse anesthetist.
It’s common knowledge that American women earn 77 cents (or less) for every dollar men earn. That disappointing statistic is reflected within our profession, with female nurses reportedly earning only 92 cents for every dollar male nurses earn and female nurse practitioners earning only 87 cents on the dollar compared to men in similar positions.
Despite the statistics, Randy Staib, feels that hard work is rewarded equally within nursing. “Sure, I’m a manager, but the other three unit managers, the unit director and the hospital’s CNO are all women, not to mention multiple female doctors.
In the final analysis, I believe our profession rewards intelligence and hard work more than the Y chromosome.” Staib practices what he preaches, preparing himself for the future by continuing his nursing education online.
HERE TO STAY
There is no question that the number of men within the nursing profession will continue to increase in the decades to come and our acceptance as an integral part of the nursing community will increase accordingly. Hopefully, the current biases will be overcome and both male and female nurses will earn a living based on their skills, knowledge and experience, whatever their gender.
Male nurses are skilled, nurturing and knowledgeable clinicians and our presence only strengthens and deepens the breadth and depth of this expanding and invaluable profession.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, CPC, NC-BC, has worked as a nurse since 1996 and has maintained the popular nursing blog Digital Doorway since 2005. He offers expert professional coaching for nurses and nursing students at www.nursekeith.com.
This article is from workingnurse.com.