Here is a prelude which is actually a prologue.
I am writing this edit after the article below was published, based on the well -written feedback. While I pinged off a recent article and point of view written by a nursing student at Penn State, my sources, as pointed out, are old, and don't reflect the current state. As a writer, I intend to bring forward more well-researched info, and this article missed the mark.
There is far less stereotyping, especially at the clinical level, where male nurses are often embraced, than at the social level. One reader did say, however, that more often that not, he is asked if he's the MD or if he's going to become an MD.
I don't believe that men in nursing is a non-issue. Perhaps at the individual experience level at the bedside...but the bigger picture to me is how the slow but steady influx of males will influence the profession. I think more men will benefit the profession in many ways, and I also think gains will be made that a feminized profession was unable to accomplish. As one reader said, male privilege does exist.
The comments so far have been well-thought out and respectful. I appreciate the feedback.
“Caring, nurturing, comforting...healing touch. Women's work.” These are words and feminine imagery used to describe nursing, a profession so strongly identified as female that it’s odd to realize, in ancient times, nurses were men. However, since the time of Florence Nightingale, males have been a minuscule minority in nursing.
What holds men back from becoming nurses, even in this modern day? One reason is the fear of almost certain stigma. Taking on a feminine role affords men an ambiguous social status. Family and friends may disapprove.
As a result of stigma, role strain, and isolation, very few men join the profession. Of those that do, more than 85% as compared to 35% of women drop out or fail (Poliafico,1998).
Men in nursing are at once advantaged and disadvantaged. While nurses are considered subordinate to doctors, male physicians treat male nurses better than females or at least with more respect. Ironically, male nurses command higher salaries than their female counterparts and hold proportionately more prestigious positions (Evans, J., & Frank, B. 2003). This may partially be due to the fact that males gravitate to the highest-paid specialties, such as nurse anesthetist.
Stereotypes and Barriers
In healthcare, men are expected to be doctors. Not only is nursing female-identified, but it is also considered by many to be gender-inappropriate for males. Hiring male nurses in labor and delivery and nursery is close to taboo in many places. Male nurses are expected to work ED and highly technical or high-acuity areas such as ICU.
Men who choose nursing face questionable social status as many people do not consider nursing a respectable role for males. Some believe male nurses are misfits who aren't successful or capable in any other career.
Media portrayal perpetuates the image of nurses as exclusively female. Male nurses are non-existent or ridiculed, as in the movie Meet the Parents with Ben Stiller. Male nurses may be subjected to curiosity and even suspicion as to why they are a nurse from their patients. They may feel they have to defend their masculinity and may distance from their female colleagues in order to do so.
Even though men choose nursing for career opportunity, salary, and job security, they can be categorized as homosexual based on their career choice. The excerpt below is taken from a study of men in nursing.
Robin: “There’s sometimes I’ll go in and see a large male that’s used to looking after himself and he has a cardiac problem. I’m not going to go in and wash his back...it comes back to this whole homophobic thing” Evans, J., & Frank, B. (2003).p. 282
Touching is an accepted form of caring, but men are stereotyped as sexual aggressors and fear being accused of sexual misconduct. Unlike female nurses, who are free to touch and show emotion, male nurses have to be careful with touch. Nursing school does not equip males to negotiate such gender conflict, and trains them from a completely female perspective.
Acceptance by Female Nurses
Male presence in a female-identified profession creates tension between the sexes on the job. This is partly handled by the women expecting traditional behaviors from the men- help with physical tasks such as lifting, and acknowledging them as leaders.
But whether or not female nurses are ready to accept large numbers of men into the profession is unclear (O’Lynn, C. E. 2004). Would men take over the only feminine stronghold in the paternalistic field of healthcare, climbing the career ladder at a fast pace, on the backs of females?
Would the nursing profession benefit from more males and do female nurses expect men to improve the status of nursing? Will it bring respect and gains that have been lacking because nursing is a female profession? And if so, is that not a sad commentary?
Future of Men in Nursing
The United States Census Bureau in 2016 reported 11% of the nation’s 3 million nurses to be male. While a small percent, it’s a significant increase from the 1970 statistics where only 2.7% of nurses were male. The American Assembly for Men in Nursing, together with the IOM, has set a goal of 20% male enrollment in U.S. nursing programs by the year 2020.
To help encourage men into nursing, it’s important to speak up about negative media portrayals and make nursing education truly male-friendly, addressing their needs. Men need role models and mentors. High school guidance counselors have a part to play in introducing nursing to all young people.
In the end, men bring a different and enriching perspective. Perceptions take a long time to change but will change by sheer numbers of males in the field as it did with female doctors. The presence of male nurses is no doubt increasing, and patients benefit from the increased balance.