Despite a desperate need for qualified nurses nationwide, one group of eligible workers is still hesitant to put on the nursing scrubs… men. As of the beginning of this year, roughly 9 million American men are looking for work, yet less than 10% of the country’s nursing force is male. For one reason or another, there seems to be a widespread hesitation for potential male nurses… a hesitation that the country’s health care community can’t afford.
“In my mind, nursing is a great profession that needs complete inclusion and diversity because everyone that walks through the door of a hospital is different,” says RN Chris Stallard, a family nurse practitioner. “We need all kinds of diversity, experience and insight to continue to provide a high level of care for our patients.”
But Stallard also acknowledges the challenges that male nurses can face. “The term ‘male nurse’ immediately separates me from the rest of nursing,” he says. “Whether it is meant in a positive or negative way, it sets me apart from every other nurse and makes me feel not quite 100 percent nurse.”
The emotional and cultural challenges to male nurses can come from all sides. On one side is the perception of nursing as a “pink-collar job“, or a job traditionally held by women-which suggests that a male is somehow less masculine if he holds said job. On the other side is a different stereotype, one that holds that men as a whole don’t possess the compassion and nurturing characteristics required of a nurse.
One nursing student recalls his nursing school professor telling him this directly. “Initially, I was shocked,” says nurse Kurt Edwards, who left his warehouse job to pursue nursing. “I was there to learn how to become a nurse, and she was telling me I didn’t have what it takes because I lacked these attributes. So I made up my mind to develop them.”
These types of stereotypes are unfortunate-not only because they aren’t true, but because they continue to prevent potentially wonderful nurses from entering the field.
“We have a cultural lag where our views of masculinity have not caught up to the change in the job market,” says Andrew Cherlin, PhD, a sociologist and public policy professor at Johns Hopkins.
A hospital or clinic needs diversity in its workforce, because the patients they treat are also diverse, with diverse needs and diverse preferences. There will be patients, for example, who will feel more comfortable being treated by a male nurse than a female nurse, and vice versa. There will be moments when physical strength may be required (moving patients or moving equipment), another moment for some male nurses to shine.
But most importantly, nursing is an incredible career opportunity, one with a rapidly expanding field of opportunities, and anyone-regardless of gender, age, creed, or race-should be encouraged to pursue it. So if you’re a male and interesting in wearing those nursing scrubs, don’t let old ways of thinking make you hesitate. Go for it, because we need all the help we can get.
For more information on pursuing a career in nursing, contact Unitek College here for program information.