Ask a man why he became a nurse and he’ll probably list familiar reasons: He enjoys helping people, likes the compassionate and caring philosophy of nursing, and wants to make a meaningful contribution to society. He loves to educate patients and interact closely with them. And he’d rather not be on call or deal with the stress that goes along with being a doctor.
But ask him what his family, friends, and acquaintances think of his career choice and he may wince. Stubborn stereotypes fade slowly, despite male-oriented recruitment posters and other marketing efforts designed to dispel them. So nursing remains a predominantly female profession: Only 5.8% of the 2.9 million RNs in this country are men, according to the 2004 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, the latest conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This translates into 168,181 male nurses, a 14.5% increase since 2000, when there were 146,902 male RNs.
How do men who move beyond the gender barrier, feel about nursing? In a word, passionate.
Male nurses ROCK!
Male Nurses Enjoy What They Do
If you asked every male nurse if he enjoys being a nurse, chances are 99% of them will tell you: Yes. Nursing is an overall enjoyable profession, with constant opportunities for growth and change. Men and women should never be bored in nursing because there is always the ability to do something different and experience new things. As nurses, we are part of a career that that can start in one place and end in another direction.
Because so many male nurses enjoy what they do, they often are enjoyable to work with. No one wants to work with Negative Nurse Nancy, but everyone wants to work with Cool and Collective Kyle. As a minority in the workforce, male nurses tend to pick their battles carefully and thoughtfully. When someone enjoys their work, they encourage you to enjoy yours as well. Nursing needs more individuals with different perspective, backgrounds, and ideas in order to grow and improve.
Why Men Do Not Pursue Nursing
- Higher Perceived Expectations. Any nursing student may struggle to live up to others’ expectations, whether those expectations come from a relative or a professor. But being a male student comes with the additional challenge of facing society’s expectations. Because nursing is predominantly female, males must work harder just to prove that they can be as competent as their female counterparts.
- Outnumbered. Male student nurses tend to be very “visible” to their classmates and faculty. As a result, they face extra scrutiny in and outside of the classroom. Sitting silent in the back of a classroom is often not an option when you are the only male in your class. Even still, professors may neglect to tailor their curriculum to address concerns unique to male nurses.
- Treated Differently. Male student nurses are expected to be physically stronger than their female peers and are often asked to assist with lifting heavy patients. They are more likely to be mistaken for a doctor or medical student in a clinical setting. And they do not always have the same opportunities as women in this field. They may miss out on scholarships created specifically for female students in a predominantly-female school or they may encounter female patients who are uncomfortable having a male nurse, particularly in obstetrics/gynecology.
- Ridiculed for Being a Male. One of the primary reasons more men do not pursue a career in nursing is because of the assumption that becoming a male nurse will trigger ridicule from others. For many, nursing is not viewed as a respectable profession for men. Many male nursing students will experience anxiety and stress when dealing with a patient and their family—and sometimes even their own family—because of this stigma.
Breaking the Barriers
Male students make a very conscious decision to become a nurse, and no one should be criticized for wanting to help others. To conquer gender and racial biases in the nursing profession, nursing faculty, students, and other healthcare professionals are encouraged to take the following steps:
- Nursing school faculty and nurses who are given the opportunity to precept male student nurses should make efforts to provide them with the same opportunities given to other student nurses in the program.
- Female student nurses should treat male student nurses with the same respect, especially in the clinical setting.
- Other healthcare professionals should make efforts to respect the decision male students make to become nurses. They should acknowledge their contributions to nursing and healthcare and encourage them to grow professionally.
- Friends and families of male student nurses should avoid being judgmental and ridiculing the decision made by these men to become nurses. Instead, friends and families should support their decision and provide all the necessary assistance and encouragement possible to help these men grow personally and professionally.
- A patient and his/her family should make efforts to recognize and address male student nurses by their proper title, to treat them with the same respect and dignity given to other professionals, and to provide them with the same opportunities to learn and develop professionally.
- Nursing school faculty, male student nurses, and male nurses should make efforts to educate the public about the invaluable contributions made by men in the nursing profession by appearing and presenting at public events such as college and career days, health fairs, and/or talk shows.
- It is time for an intervention study with nursing education. Just as female medical students had to break the gender barriers in medicine, male nursing students want to break the gender barriers in nursing.
Organizations & Websites
Here’s some valuable information for men in the profession.
- American Assembly for Men in Nursing
- Male Nurse Magazine
- Men in Nursing: History
- Nurselookup.com (a website promoting men in the nursing profession)
- The American Assembly for Men in Nursing