When you hear the word "nurse," do you think male or female?

As old as the nursing profession is, it's still considered a female profession...NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT!


When you hear the word "nurse," do you think male or female?

I think we can all agree "Nursing" is, "historically," a female profession. And, regardless of male participation today, nursing is still a female dominated profession. I don't think there is anything negative about this fact and I have no issue with female/male nursing ratios or anything associated with the subject so I'm not trying to make any point about that.

It's my opinion "nursing," collectively, is considered a female profession in spite of male participation and notwithstanding the conscious efforts to express the contrary or to express the word "nurse" as gender neutral. I believe this arises from our subconscious mental state and has been established, maybe even with subliminal contributions, from everything we've been exposed to in regard to real life and media representation of "nursing." Over the years, as females entered traditionally male professions, "Fireman" became "Firefighter," "Policeman" became "Police Officer," "Mailman" became "Mail Carrier," etc. As a result, the description changes call attention and introduce the possibility the profession could be female or male. The term "Nurse" has nowhere to go in this regard and, to date, I'm not aware of any effort to replace "Nurse" with any other descriptor.

When you hear the word "nurse," is your immediate mental image a male or female? Say, for instance, if "nurse" came up in a word association game, would you instantaneously see a man or a woman? I see a woman. I believe most of the population sees a woman and I'd like to offer up two personal observations as an explanation.

First, and you can find a multitude of examples just on this site if a writer is not consciously trying to be gender neutral when they refer to a nurse they will use, "she" or "her." Yes, I've seen some exceptions but, overall, this had been my observation. Maybe you could attribute this to female nurse writers on this site but when you expand it to the general population you'll find male's referring to nurses as "she" or "her."

Second; and this one has been the most interesting to me over the years...and the most conclusive to my theory. On a regular basis, at least every week for sure, when I make a phone call and introduce myself..."Hi, this is OldDude, school nurse at XYZ Elementary School," the first response I get is, "Yes ma'am -(micro pause)- I mean yes sir." Same thing when I work at Urgent Care..."Hi, this is OldDude, I'm a nurse at XYZ Urgent care," same thing..."Yes, ma'am -(micro pause)- I mean yes sir." The person I'm talking to realizes I am a man. I have a normal to lower pitched man voice. I introduce myself with a man's name - a name that is only a man's name. But I end the introduction with "nurse." I believe "nurse" is what produces the subconscious response of "Yes ma'am." And then the tail end of their mental slinky arrives and they remember I am a man and say "Yes sir." Some of the people get frustrated and apologize and I assure them it's OK and not to worry. It really doesn't worry me and I kinda find it entertaining. I've never been upset with nurses being referred to as "she" or "her."

So, I'm saying, here we are in 2019, in the world of PC and the likes, nurses are still perceived as women...and I'm exactly OK with that...just an observation.

If you have an opinion about this, I'd like to hear it.

I'd like to hear from other man nurses if you have experienced the same telephone responses.

Or, I'd like to hear from female nurses if they've received a response to their phone calls as "Yes sir - I mean yes ma'am."

Otherwise, thank you for reading.

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Specializes in ICU. Has 4 years experience.

I see the mental picture of a woman if someone uses the word nurse without specifying or giving some other context as to the person’s gender. It is definitely because I’ve seen so many more female nurses, but it also may have something to do with the fact that I am a female and I am a nurse, so I sort of picture someone like me, lol.

This reminds me of a story I heard about someone that was in nursing school. She went in to a patient room with a male fellow nursing student and they were assessing, etc and talking with the patient who was an older lady. They were talking about going through nursing school and the likes, the patient turns to the guy student and says, “oh you’re not studying to be a doctor?” ? Hahaha! That had me cracking up because it was like....no, they’re literally in the same uniform! But she didn’t mean anything by it, just goes to show that old stereotypes and traditional expectations are still around. There’s nothing wrong with that, she just expected men to go be doctors and more women to be nurses, which is how it used to be. So I think that’s sort of in the same vein.


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Specializes in Travel, Home Health, Med-Surg. Has 20 years experience.

I still think of a female when I hear nurse even though I have worked with many males. I guess it is because when i was in grade school (60's) the stereotypes were in full force. I have never had anyone say sir to me. I once worked with a male who was mostly referred to as the "male nurse", I think it bothered him at first but then just let it roll off.


8 Posts

Isn't it interesting that nurses were primarily males before Nightengales time?

Davey Do

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Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 44 years experience.
On 2/23/2019 at 8:58 AM, OldDude said:
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I'd like to hear from other man nurses if you have experienced the same telephone responses.

Otherwise, thank you for reading.

No- OldDude- thank you for your GUY article about GUYS in nursing!

I've had some patients accidentally call me "ma'am" to my face.

I think it was because I've managed to keep my girlish figure.

There doesn't leave much room for doubt as to my gender on the telephone, because I introduce myself as "Davey Do, One Bad A Mo Fo RN!"

I believe giving a point of reference causes everyone to feel more comfortable.

I’ve certainly been referenced as a female before, like many others. It was clearly by accident/habit even when I’m standing in front of them. Other times they automatically think I’m the doctor because I’m male. It’s in these times I politely stare and watch their mouth and face contort while their brain catches up and they recognize their “oops”. ?

it’s a great profession, we can all be in on it! ?


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Specializes in Pediatrics Retired.
17 hours ago, Thefourofus said:

Isn't it interesting that nurses were primarily males before Nightengales time?

True, but the men weren't referred to as "nurses"...wardsmen, stewards, orderlies, attendants, etc.

Thank You!

Specializes in Community health. Has 5 years experience.

I graduated this past year. In my class of 40, there were probably 6 males. It was not unusual to hear an instructor say “Okay ladies!... and men!” All of the men seemed to take it in stride; I hope they did. Certainly nobody meant any disrespect when they called us all “ladies,” and people were consciously trying to overcome that and change their speech. Some of the instructors, though, entered the profession when it was 100% female, and old habits die hard

I do do dislike hearing someone referred to as a “male nurse.” That’s like the old days when a woman professional would be referred to as a “female lawyer” or a “lady doctor”, as though it was a novelty. A nurse is just a nurse, not a “male nurse”!

Leadkrm, RN

211 Posts

Specializes in Pediatric Burn ICU.

I get the,” lets get to it ladies!” At team meetings. My patients parents will mistake me for a Dr. often. When I get young female patients and I introduced myself, most exclaim, “ What? Boy are allowed to be nurses too!?” It is all understandable and I’ve never been one to carry a chip on my shoulder. It is always an easy joke for charge nurses to make when I float somewhere. They think they are comedic geniuses haha. I think it’s funny that they find their own humor so funny since they are typically such cheesy jokes. I did find out that women talk about things to each other that would make some sailors blush. They will carry on and forget I’m at the nurses station. I’ll give them a cough or say something like,” Holy smokes ladies. Let’s dial it back to about a 6.”

TriciaJ, RN

4,296 Posts

Specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory. Has 42 years experience.

"...then the tail end of their mental slinky arrives..." I absolutely love that.

Davey Do

1 Article; 10,290 Posts

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 44 years experience.
14 hours ago, Leadkrm said:

My patients parents will mistake me for a Dr. often.

My typical comeback is "I didn't go to school for two years to be called 'doctor' thank you very much!"

When I worked Med Surge in a small rural community hospital, an old farmer said to me, "You became a nurse because you're not smart enough to be a doctor!"

"Or ambitious enough", I added, "or driven or devoted. Shall I go on?"

I was once asked if I went to a male nursing school. I said that I did, but only after I found that I couldn't make it as a female in nursing school.

Specializes in School Nursing. Has 6 years experience.

Always love your point of view, OldDude.

As a nurse with a pixie cut, I've gotten Sir'ed a handful of times a year. I call it the "quick glance autopilot." Whatever characteristic they glanced at is what they see - short hair, dude; scrubs, must be a (typically female) nurse.