Men and Nursing (article) by Nancy Girard RN

  1. Men and nursing - Editorial
    AORN Journal, April, 2003 by Nancy J. Girard

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    Recently, I have been reading online discussions and hearing conversations about the media's portrayal of men in nursing. Two examples that may have presented a negative image were the movie Meet the Parents and a recent episode of the television show Scrubs. Both shows have characters who are male RNs. Some of the jokes and comments in these shows are derogatory but disguised as humor.

    Of course, humor is in the funny bone of the observer, but I have to say that many aspects of both shows left me seething instead of laughing. Negative image is not anything new to nurses. Female nurses have battled a negative image since the profession began. Now, however, the spotlight seems to have swung to the men in our profession. In all fairness, there also has been some very positive publicity, such as in a recent episode of the television show JAG, which had a story line about nurses during World War II, and the Johnson & Johnson nursing campaign in which both male and female nurses are featured in a positive light.


    With all the discussion and publicity, I thought I would reflect on men in nursing a bit. Historically, men are not new to nursing. Although their titles may have differed through the ages, there is recorded evidence of their skill and care. Male caregivers have been identified as far back as medieval times. (1) Only during the past two decades, however, have men in any number chosen nursing as a career path.

    I never really thought about men in nursing being an exception in the career because, as a perioperative nurse, I always have had colleagues of both genders. Both male and female nurses did the same thing, and both earned the same salaries. At times, I must admit I felt preference was given by male physicians to men in nursing, especially in cardiovascular and orthopedic ORs.

    There are relatively few men in the nursing profession, so many of them have banded together and created an organization to assist them in their careers. The American Assembly for Men in Nursing is an organization that was founded 24 years ago and is managed by the New York State Nurses Association. Both men and women belong to this organization, as they do to other professional nursing organizations. You can access the association's web site at http://people.delphiforums .com/brucewilson.

    Men in nursing gradually are increasing in number. Many are older adults--30 to 50 years of age is the most common range--and they have entered nursing as a second career. These men more frequently intend to continue their schooling and earn a higher degree. Factors that influence their decision to pursue a nursing degree reflect those of women (ie, stability of a career, ease of obtaining a job, the desire to give care). (2) Many say they made their decision to enter nursing after talking with others, or they had a personal experience involving a loved one who needed care.

    Some male nurses have found that they have not been able to practice in certain areas, such as obstetrics/gynecology or the delivery room. (3) Some male perioperative nurses have told me that they are not assigned to these ORs either. Others have said that they are looked at either more or less favorably than women when applying for administration positions. (4) Some say that they are more discriminated against by female nurses, while physicians and administrators accept and respect them.


    The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that of students enrolled in baccalaureate nursing programs in 2002, 9.6% were men. (5) Of those enrolled in masters' programs 9.6% were men; doctoral programs included 6.7% men, nursing doctoral programs included 10.3% men, and postdoctoral programs included 7.5% men.

    Men seem more likely to be catered to by the mostly female faculty at nursing schools, or they are taken to task more often because they do not think or act like women. Unfortunately, relatively few men are faculty members in nursing schools. When I became a faculty member, I first taught in the undergraduate program and quickly became aware that not all faculty members enjoyed having men in their clinical groups, although most did. I saw preferential treatment as well as discrimination. When I taught the perioperative elective in the undergraduate program and the perioperative major for graduate students, men frequently were enrolled in the courses. Many were military enlisted men who were health care technicians or were funded officers sent back to school to earn their degrees.

    I enjoyed the mix of both men and women and found that, regardless of gender, some students were outstanding and some were not. There were more men in the OR, emergency room, certified RN anesthetist, and critical care courses than other courses.

    I asked one new student why he chose to come to nursing school when he already had two masters' degrees in other fields. He said his job had been eliminated in both fields, and he was tired of always looking for a new position. He picked up the Sunday paper one day and told his wife that the job that had the most opportunity was what he was going to do. Of course it was nursing. He realized he always had wanted to work in health care, enjoyed interacting with people, and thought he would enjoy working with patients. He was 52 years old upon entrance to nursing school. He graduated, is now working as a perioperative nurse, and loves it.


    AORN membership statistics for January 2003 show that there are 35,858 women and 4,119 men in our organization. AORN's membership comprises 8.7% men. (6) Today, with the severity of the nursing shortage, more institutions are seeking out men as well as women. Nursing is a career that suits everyone, because intelligent and competent nurses of both genders are needed desperately.

  2. Visit Thunderwolf profile page

    About Thunderwolf, MSN, RN

    Joined: Oct '04; Posts: 12,611; Likes: 3,285
    Charge Nurse; from US
    Specialty: 32 year(s) of experience in Med-Surg, Geriatric, Behavioral Health


  3. by   ats
    I'm not a male, so sorry if this response is inappropriate on this forum, but I love finding information on the other perspective and really appreciate your posts and insights, Thunderwolf.

    Just as reason and critical thinking are not solely male traits, caring and nurturing don't exist only in the world of women. The struggle for everyone, women included, is recognizing that it's not the one or the other that makes us unique, but the blend. You men don't bring something brand spanking new to the mix -- but your presence gives us an opportunity to integrate everything we already are in new and valuable ways and bring that to our practice. How do you react to different situations that have some of us stumped? How do you communicate and make yourself heard? How do you relate to patients and co-workers? It's called modeling, and I'm thankful for every person, man or woman, who has shown me a new way of thinking and acting.

    Two of the people who were instrumental in my choice of a nursing career were, not surprisingly, nurses. One had advanced degrees in theology and microbiology and would admit to being more of a "thinker" than a "feeler," yet was dedicated to serving a very marginalized population. The other was an ICU nurse who cared for me several years back when I landed in the hospital after travelling far to attend my dear mother's funeral. When I wanted to leave AMA rather than miss a chance to say my farewell (I could barely move at this point), the nurse looked me in the eye and calmly said there'd be *two* funerals if I didn't stop to think -- and then sat with me for a bit and really helped me make sense of everything that was happening and what was truly important. These two nurses were men, and they are and will always be two of the best role models I could want.

    And now I shall tip-toe on out of the room...

    Take care
  4. by   gwlillith
    I too was influenced by two male nurses before my career. One was a very dear friend, who sadly is not here today, and encouraged me throughout nursing school. I'd like to think I've made him proud.
    The other was one that cared for me in a cancer hospital where I was being treated. He was a staff nurse on a gynecological cancer unit!
    He was wonderful to me after my surgery. His name was Phil. I will never forget these two "guys".
    I've also worked with some fantastic and not so fantastic nurses..male AND female.
    ..and I will also tip-toe (really a sort of a dance!) out of this room...