In an era where “toxic masculinity” is bracing media headlines, the nursing profession is seeing an influx of male nurses entering the “nurturing” profession.
Gender biases are crumbling and men are crossing over, taking on jobs that were once predominately female. Can male nurses be good nurturers? Are they less of a man for entering into what was once known as a predominately female role?
Known as the most trusted profession, nursing has been stigmatized as being “just for female’s” since the beginning of time. Women were automatically cast as the nurturers. Men as the laborers.
In a New York Times 2017 ‘Letter to the editor article,’ a woman writes “My husband exudes masculinity when I watch him work in the emergency department. He is a thinker, a leader, and a doer. He embraces his role and title as a registered nurse. Luckily, so do other men in nursing.”
Back in the 1960s, only 2 percent of males worked as nurses. Today, that number is approximately 13 percent with steady growth. The American Association for Men in Nursing (AAMN) projects a 20% increase in the number of male nurses in the workforce by 2020.
Shifting the gender paradigm
Women have been entering male professions for decades. The paradigm has shifted, and now men are entering into predominately female professions like nursing. A study conducted in 2017 in Ireland found that a significant number of male nurses related to more female gender roles than male gender norms.
The APA recently released their guidelines on how to treat male clients. They suggest that treating male clients will be more impactful if therapists’ factor in the documented risk factors associated with “traditional” masculinity (not seeking help, struggling with vulnerability) in their treatment, and broadly remember to factor in masculinity as a gender identity when assessing the needs of their male clients. The recent Gillet razor blade ad that set off a media frenzy further brings those gender bias walls crumbling down, and perhaps this paves a way to professions like nursing to become gender neutral.
According to the General Social Survey, progressive attitudes towards gender roles has contributed to more men entering the nursing field. The attraction of good pay and a stable profession is difficult to ignore. According to the WCEG working paper, a decline in jobs due to automation, trade, and the housing crisis has led to a growth in the nursing field.
A new survey shows that male nurses make $6000.00 plus a year more than female nurses. This echoes many other professions where males are paid more than females. “In general, there is innate acculturation that occurs men and boys that to take on more administrative leadership positions. I never had that perspective until I learned it from a woman, a social psychologist by the name of Pat Heim who wrote the book “Hardball for Women.” When boys and girls are growing up in society, they are socialized differently” states Jim Kane MN, RN, CNS, NEA-BC. Jim is the co-author of the book ‘Touched by A Nurse, Moments That Transform Lives.’ He aspired to support the healing work of nurses and now works for The Advisory Board (Healthcare Research Think Tank www.advisory.com ).
“I found I loved intense tech, anatomy and physiology. Adrenalin rushes were thrilling!” Jim adds explaining why he went into nursing.” I also like forming relationships with patients and working to help them heal. I never thought of advancing in the role, other than wanting to take care of the highest acuity possible. It has been a phenomenal career for me with countless different kinds of roles. The learning never stops, and I’m constantly fascinated!”
Can men be nurtures?
“Nursing is not about the starched white hats, immaculate uniforms and Nurse Ratchet! That’s what the media portrays the profession to be. It’s not only a role for females. It’s much more than that. It’s about forensics, flight nursing, Emergency, ICU, Anesthesia, and Advanced Practice Nursing. Those are just a few roles where men can flourish in the profession.”
Abner Vilches works as a Family Nurse Practitioner in a bustling urgent care. He chose nursing as a profession over twenty years ago when he saw his friend become handicapped after he was run over by a car. “I saw how the female nurses were caring for my friend, and I thought to myself, ‘I can do that!’ Nursing is a caring profession! You have to be in touch with your own feelings and really like people.” He adds.
Christian Diance RN, BSN, was initially entering law enforcement and made a detour into nursing. He was inspired by his mother, who is also a nurse, who had wanted Christian and his brothers to enter the profession. “During my first clinical rotation I went to an assisted living program. There were so many people that needed help. I just wanted to make people feel better. That made me feel better. I was overwhelmed with how rewarding the nursing profession could be.”
Discrimination on the job and dealing with “toxic femininity”
When men started to enter the nursing profession patients may have been confused and perhaps even refused to have them as their caregiver. Sometimes, patients may not want to have a particular nurse taking care of them because they are a ‘guy!” Male physicians were never questioned and even seen as normal in roles such as Obstetrics.
“More often than not I was the sole man working in the ICU and the majority of the units I worked on. States Jim Kane RN when he was asked about his personal nursing experiences and dealing with discrimination. With my psych background, I became a sounding board for the women I worked with. They told me everything! Frequently about discord between co-workers. I recall being a peacekeeper. When people are dying all around you it’s all “small” stuff. Jim Kane adds. I have seen some of my female colleagues be simply mean to each other, even in high professional organizational levels. I’m not sure this “in battling” serves nursing collectively.
A study in Canada found that male nurses experienced greater job satisfaction through the caring aspect. The study noted that gender-based stereotypes contributed to job dissatisfaction in the workplace. Male nurses would like to be referred to as “the nurse,” and not the male nurse. When referring to a female nurse, typically we do not mention gender.
“When I started in nursing, my first job was in a Cardiac ICU in Memphis, Tennessee. I was one of the only men in my unit. I was the only Latino. Many patients refused to have me as their nurse. And the female nurses were catty. They would report me for minor things like beds not being made correctly. In the beginning, I git bullied! Something I didn’t expect to happen. I really didn’t know how to deal with it! The female nurses seemed to be more argumentative amongst themselves and stab each other in the back.” States Abner Vilches RN, MSN FNP. “As I became an FNP, people would mistake me for a physician, and I still have to correct them. “
Both Abner and Jim state they wanted to work with mothers in postpartum but were turned away due to being ‘a man.’ “My first love was obstetrics. In nursing school during my OB clinicals, I was not allowed to take care of any of the female patients. No one would hire me in Memphis to work in OB because I was a man! Yet, most OBGYN physicians were men.”
“When I first told my high school friends, I was going into the nursing profession, they made fun of me! They would crack jokes, smirk and give me a hard time” states Christiane Diance. “Today, they are calling me for advice on how to enter the profession and what schools to go to.”
Dispersing the stigma
“My father was a nurse and encouraged me to go into nursing” states Leo Oliva RN, BSN. Acting was my first love. Going into the nursing profession allowed me to be able to pursue that love. Having been a high school cheerleader, Leo never had a problem working in a predominately female profession. He always saw it as a gender-neutral role.
In order to promote men entering the nursing profession, Leo wrote and directed the film “The Shift” which can be seen on Amazon Prime. He cast several male actors in the roles of nurses, and even plays the lead nurse. Actor Danny Glover is cast as the charge nurse of a chaotic Emergency room.
“I taught the actors medical terminology and how certain nursing procedures are done in the emergency room. I wanted the scenes to be as real as possible so that the general public could understand what we do as a profession.” Leo hopes that his film will inspire more men to go into the profession.
Christian Diance visits high schools and speaks to students who are Juniors and seniors promoting the nursing profession. He talks about his personal experiences of being an ICU nurse. How delicately exciting and rewarding it is to work in the ICU. How he is constantly learning and discovering new things every week. And how he is part of a team that saves lives every week!
As the nursing profession evolves, nurses should be considered “Nurses” and not be singled out as male or female. Gender walls are falling. As a society, we are entering into a time of neutrality. When encouraging either male or females to enter into a profession, gender biases should be put aside. The focus should be on what the individual is inspired to do, their life’s purpose and what they could contribute to the profession as a person and not their gender.