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Do Male Nurses Face Gender Bias in Nursing Education?

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SafetyNurse1968 has 20 years experience as a ADN, BSN, MSN, PhD and specializes in Oncology, Home Health, Patient Safety.

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Can gender bias affect a male nursing student's career path?

This article discusses gender bias from the perspective of the nursing student. Men are a minority in the nursing profession and may face bias that can have a negative impact on their self-concept and career path. Solutions for dealing with gender bias are included.

Are you a male nurse?

  1. 1. Do you identify as a male nurse?

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Do Male Nurses Face Gender Bias in Nursing Education?

The next time you’re at work, look around. How many of your fellow nurses are men? I teach nursing and in a class of forty students, I have only three students who identify as men. None of the forty faculty members at my school of nursing are male. Back in the 1960s, only 2 percent of nurses were male, but now the number has risen to 13 percent.1 Why is nursing so female-centric?

HISTORY

We were taught in nursing school that the first nurses were male caregivers in Ancient Rome, tending the sick and dying during the Crusades. Male nurses were also found in the Civil War in both the Union and Confederate armies. The shift to an all-female workforce didn’t begin until the Army Nurse Corps (ANC), established in 1901, banned men from serving as nurses. It wasn’t until 1955 that they commissioned the first male officer.2 

MEDIA

You may have seen a movie called Meet the Parents, in which Ben Stiller plays Greg Focker, a male nurse who perpetuates stereotypes that women are nurses and men are doctors. If you look at Grey’s Anatomy, scrubs and ER, the stereotypes continue. We might see a female doctor, but never a male nurse. In a survey of male nurses, 70 percent stated that gender stereotypes are the main barrier to entering the field of nursing.1 Male nurse respondents indicated they were influenced by the misperception that the profession of nursing is not “appropriate” for men. 

CHALLENGING MASCULINITY

In an article in American Nurse Today, David Foley shares some of his experiences as a male nurse. “The pressure to create a masculine identity within a historically female profession proves overwhelming and they [male nurses] flee for the operating room, emergency department or intensive care unit.” Male nursing students may face questions from family and friends about choosing nursing and may face challenges to their masculinity because women are traditionally seen as nurturers, while men are in more dominant leadership roles. Foley shared a story about a  student who was actively discouraged from going into a less technical discipline in nursing with comments like, “You’ll never be accepted,” “Why would you want to make your life so hard,” and “What’s wrong with critical care? You’ll make more money.”3 

Edward Bennett, named 2018 Student Nurse of the Year by the National Black Nurses Association, said, “I’ve definitely gotten pushback for being a black male nurse. Other people look at me like, ‘why would you want to be a nurse when you can be doctor?” Bennett continues to advocate for changing misconceptions by reminding prospective male nurses that, “You work with your hands, you think critically and you advocate for your patients every day.”4

Male nurses face a particularly steep challenge in obstetrics and OB-GYN. Even if they overcome stereotypes about who should pursue this field of nursing, often they cannot obtain access to patients. As an instructor I have seen it happen many times – a woman giving birth or having a pelvic exam doesn’t want a male nursing student to observe or care for her.3

In a survey of 462 undergraduate nursing students in Canada, male students demonstrated significantly lower scores on the efficacy subscale, suggesting that some men experience feelings of marginalization and discrimination.5

SOLUTIONS

According to the IOM report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Health, Advancing Change, we must find a solution. Men provide unique perspectives and skills that are crucial to the profession and to society as a whole. We need to place a greater emphasis on recruiting men into the field. We know that patients are more receptive to healthcare providers of similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds.1 Male patients may feel more comfortable discussing certain conditions, especially those related to sexual and reproductive health, with other men, than with women. The World Health Organization identifies the “men’s health gap” – men visit the doctor less frequently and are less likely to ask questions or bring up concerns during appointments. “Having a male nurse could help open them up” says Bryan Smith, president of the American Association for Men in Nursing.6

The nursing shortage is another reason to recruit men. The president of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing, William T. Lecher, states that “The shortage of the future will likely not be solved unless men are part of the equation.”1 

Elias Provencio-Vasquez, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow, shares that when he was met with resistance from some female patients in the maternity ward early in his career as a student at the University of Texas, in El Paso, “We overcame that by presenting ourselves as students, and our faculty members were very professional and very supportive."1 

Bennett recommends creating pipeline programs for male students at predominantly African American high schools to diversify the profession in multiple ways.4

THE AAMN

To encourage more men to join the profession, the AAMN conducts outreach, challenging local chapters to reach as many male middle and high school students as possible through classroom visits, career fairs and more. The AAMN also offers an award to the best schools for men in nursing to recognize programs that have made efforts in recruiting and retaining male students. Award winners include Nebraska Methodist, Duke, Goldfarb, New York University, Rush, Rutgers, Vanderbilt and West Coast University. In addition, the AAMN enlists members to guest lecture at nursing schools. Only 6 percent of faculty are men. Having a lecture from a male nurse can have a powerful impact on male students who are feeling isolated and alone. “Just seeing a male being successful in nursing, even though it seems like something so small, can really trigger a sense of belonging.” says Smith.4

Nurse educators and preceptors must acknowledge that gender bias exists. We need to refrain from gender-biased language and teaching practices that may discourage male nurses from embracing a career in any of the specialties of nursing. 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I’d love to hear from male nurses out there – what has your experience been? Did you find support when you needed it? Do you have ideas for how we can recruit more men into nursing and remove some of the misconceptions that are preventing a diverse workforce?

Read Gender Bias in Health Care to learn more about gender bias in health care.


REFERENCES

  1. Male nurses break through barriers to diversity profession
  2. Men in Nursing: History, Stereotypes, and the Gender Pay Gap  
  3. How to Avoid Gender Bias in Nursing Education 
  4. Bohanon M. (2019, January 8). Men in nursing: A crucial profession continues to lack gender diversity. 
  5. Sedgwick, M. G. & Kellett, P. (2015). Exploring masculinity and marginalization of male undergraduate nursing students’ experience of belonging during clinical experiences. Journal of Nursing Education, 54(3):121-129.
  6. American Association for Men in Nursing. 

References

1. Male nurses break through barriers to diversity profession: https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2011/09/male-nurses-break-through-barriers-to-diversify-profession.html
2. Men in Nursing: History, Stereotypes, and the Gender Pay Gap: https://www.onlinefnpprograms.com/features/men-in-nursing/
3. How to Avoid Gender Bias in Nursing Education: https://www.americannursetoday.com/how-to-avoid-gender-bias-in-nursing-education/
4. Bohanon M. (2019, January 8). Men in nursing: A crucial profession continues to lack gender diversity. Retrieved from insightintodiversity.com/men-in-nursing-a-crucial-profession-continues-to-lack-gender-diversity
5. Sedgwick, M. G. & Kellett, P. (2015). Exploring masculinity and marginalization of male undergraduate nursing students’ experience of belonging during clinical experiences. Journal of Nursing Education, 54(3):121-129.
6. American Association for Men in Nursing. aamn.org

Dr. Kristi Miller, aka Safety Nurse is an Assistant Professor of nursing at USC-Upstate and a Certified Professional in Patient Safety. She is also a mother of four who loves to write so much that she would probably starve if her phone didn’t remind her to take a break. Her work experiences as a hospital nurse make it easy to skip using the bathroom to get in just a few more minutes on the computer. She is obsessed with patient safety. Please read her blog, Safety Rules! on allnurses.com. You can also get free Continuing Education at www.safetyfirstnursing.com. In the guise of Safety Nurse, she is sending a young Haitian woman to nursing school and you can learn more about that adventure: https://www.gofundme.com/rose-goes-to-nursing-school

11 Followers; 49 Articles; 16,197 Profile Views; 305 Posts

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Jedrnurse has 25 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in school nurse.

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Hi, there. Thank you for your interest in this subject. I have some comments that are counter to themes in your article - no disrespect is intended.

First, though I can't speak for anyone (first hand) but myself, I've never had any troubles anywhere because of being a guy, either in nursing school or in practice. I guess that makes me lucky. Maybe there were some jobs I interviewed for that I didn't get because of it over the years, but I'll never know.

Second, there is adversity in life. To suggest that running into some roadblocks will result in skewed "self-concept", well,  folks need to get a grip, get a life and get over it. Gnashing of teeth over difficulties guys may have in the field does a disservice to those who have REAL obstacles placed in their lives based on who/what they are. Yeah, most of the times in conversation the pronoun "she" is used when speaking of nurses. I somehow live on.

Third, please don't promulgate any of that old trope about the nursing shortage. There is not a shortage of nurses. Programs everywhere have waiting lists and are churning out new grads like candy on a conveyor belt. What there is is a shortage of hospitals willing to pay and staff appropriately.

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SafetyNurse1968 has 20 years experience as a ADN, BSN, MSN, PhD and specializes in Oncology, Home Health, Patient Safety.

11 Followers; 49 Articles; 305 Posts; 16,197 Profile Views

35 minutes ago, Jedrnurse said:

please don't promulgate any of that old trope about the nursing shortage. There is not a shortage of nurses. Programs everywhere have waiting lists and are churning out new grads like candy on a conveyor belt. What there is is a shortage of hospitals willing to pay and staff appropriately.

I'm so grateful when folks read my articles and comment. Disagreement seems to make for a more interesting conversation! I completely appreciate what you said about the "nursing shortage" - I came so close to not including that comment in my article. I agree with you, Jednurse. The day nurses are paid fairly and safe staffing ratios are instituted in all 50 states is the day the "shortage" will end. 

To address your other concerns, as a person who identifies as female, I really wish nursing were more balanced gender-wise. I would like to experience my profession with more diversity and balance - I think it would be more interesting and more fun to come to work. I hope we can agree that a diverse work-force makes for better patient outcomes, and a more collegial and stimulating workplace. 

Thanks again for reading and commenting.

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FullGlass has 1 years experience as a BSN, MSN, NP and specializes in Adult and Geriatric Primary Care.

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Interesting article.  I'm female.  My nursing school was desperate to get more male students!  They even offered scholarships just for male students.  I am not aware of male nursing students or nurses being treated differently; they were always welcomed.  

I don't understand the concern about "male nurse identity."  What is that supposed to mean?  We are nurses.  I don't identify as a "female nurse," but as a nurse (practitioner).

Patients have a right to request that their personal preferences, which may also have a religious and/or cultural foundation, be respected.  Female patients may not be comfortable with a male nurse or provider, and that is especially true in Ob/Gyn.  If they prefer female nurses and providers, then all reasonable attempts to respect their wishes should be made.  

There are some cultures/religions that forbid a male patient from being cared for by a female nurse or provider and hospitals and clinics try to honor their wishes.  Some male patients prefer a male provider for uro-genital issues, and we must respect their wishes.

As for "Meet the Fockers," that movie did the opposite of perpetuate stereotypes.  Ben Stiller, the male nurse, earned the respect and trust of his father-in-law.  Subsequent movies showed him moving into a management role and being very successful.  That movie was a great role model for potential male nurses and showed a male nurse in a very positive light.

I agree that our profession could use some more outreach to let young men know that nursing can be a great career.  But I am not going to view male nurses as being victims.  

 

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386 Posts; 5,249 Profile Views

I've encountered the occasional whiff of bias (or even outright bias), but these are exception to the rule and haven't seriously affected my life or career. And anyway, biases cut both ways. 

What I've always found more significant, as a straight male nurse in a long-term relationship, is that gender dynamics keep me from socializing with my coworkers (the majority of whom are straight women) as readily as they tend to socialize with each other. The specter of firing up the workplace rumor mill or of  misinterpreted intentions makes it easiest to just socialialize more rarely in large groups or primarily with the other male nurses. Of course there have been plenty of exceptions - friends I've made, welcoming and inclusive coworkers - but it just seems like there's a bit of a barrier to workplace camaraderie when you're enough of a minority in the environment.

Its no one's fault and I'm not trying to complain about it by the way. 

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CeciBean has 30 years experience as a ASN, RN and specializes in MICU/CCU, SD, home health, neo, travel.

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I graduated from nursing school in 1986. Out of the 104 students in my class, 5 were male. The only gender bias issue I noticed was that the guys were not allowed in the delivery room, which I thought was weird, since the OB/GYNs in all the clinical settings were almost entirely male. I mean, excuse me? When we started applying for jobs, the guy who was in our study group was getting really depressed because he wanted to start out in Med/Surg and everywhere he went it was assumed that he wanted critical care or ED. One of the females said to him when he was complaining about it, "Now you're getting a little taste of what women put up with every day!" which I thought was pretty valid because that definitely was gender bias. (He worked a couple of years M/S, then transferred to a big teaching hospital CCU and eventually to their cath lab where he is now in hog heaven) 

Since those days I've worked in a variety of settings and have almost always had from one to a bunch of male co-workers. I usually like it when the ratio is close to 50-50, especially in a critical care or cardiac setting. It just seems more collegial and less (if you will excuse me for being sexist here) catty that way. I've found that majority female settings tend to get fractured and clique-y and I am not a big fan of that. I wish women wouldn't act that way, especially since we are all in this together.

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I live in a progressive area and i generally have multiple men in each clinical rotation. I have even had one clinical rotation where men were the majority.  

I don't have data to back up my perception, but my perception of men in nursing is that this is one instance where being a minority works to your advantage.  When I have worked in floor nursing , men tend to get more sought after job placements as new grads (icu/ER ) at a greater proportion than their female peers.  I also think they tend to get accepted into the social milleu of nursing floors more easily when they start a new position.   

Edited by Rnis

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While we do not have many male nurses on the floor (maybe 1:5 male to female ratio), I do see more male nurses that are unit managers, clinical resource and other leadership roles.  I do not know what to attribute that to and it is strictly anecdotal, but it is what I have noticed.

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Not a nurse (yet), however my experience as a male MA working at various large academic medical center clinics overall has been all positive (male privilege?) I do agree with Rnis where I think d/t my gender I get accepted socially easier than perhaps a female peer in the same clinic.  

I do occasionally get the "why not MD" comment from patients and some staff members, which is frustrating because nursing school and nursing is rigorous as well and great career. But I guess I should take it as a complement?

Edited by sam619

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midnighter94 has 21 years experience and specializes in OB.

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I've worked in OB for 24 years and we've recently hired our first male nurse.  When we interviewed him, we raised the question of 'will there be more work for co-workers/charge nurse?' as in will we need to chaperone him during foleys/pushing/breast feeding etc. ?  Orientation is over, things have gone well, patients love him and no patients have complained about having a male nurse.  Suddenly we've gotten notice from HR that he is to be chaperoned during foleys, exams, breast feeding - that when the baby is placed skin-to-skin with the mom, he shouldn't lurk, he should be given only bottle-feeding mothers; that all staff need to ask patients if they want a chaperone prior to any exams - even if it's female staff performing the exam.  Yes, we normally accompany the physicians when they do the exams, but most of the time it's more so that we can document - there has never been a policy that said they had to be accompanied.  It's like HR has turned what we do into a sexual thing!  One of the questions I asked was, do male nurses on the medical floors need a chaperone to place a foley? - no, they don't, not officially - if the patient is a 'young female and the nurse feels that the patient would be uncomfortable, then he may request a chaperone.'

So yes, I am for the first time in my career, seeing gender bias.  

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NICU Guy has 4 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in NICU.

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In nursing school (ABSN program) we had 10/29 males (34%) in the class. The Med/Surg instructor for the ABSN program was male. There were zero issues with faculty or female classmates. No one felt discrimination or marginalization.

I started as a new grad in the second highest female dominated specialty, NICU. When I started there was a 3 to 297 male to female nurse ratio. 5 yrs later it has decreased to 2 to 298 ratio. I have never experienced any issue from coworkers, doctors, or families. My family, friends, neighbors have been 100 % supportive of my choice of becoming a nurse.

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NICU Guy has 4 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in NICU.

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30 minutes ago, midnighter94 said:

that when the baby is placed skin-to-skin with the mom, he shouldn't lurk, he should be given only bottle-feeding mothers

Fortunately, I have not had to deal with any of that nonsense. I have placed countless non-intubated babies on mothers for skin to skin therapy without a chaperone. None of the mothers have every had an issue with me helping with skin to skin. Thankfully, we have lactation consultants on staff to help with assisting with breastfeeding issues, so I never have to deal with that. My assignments have never been contingent upon whether a mom breastfeeds or bottle feeds.

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