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Do Male Nurses Face Reverse Sexism?

June 16, 2009
Army medic awarded Distinguished Service Cross.

Army medic receiving Distinguished Service Cross

A recent blog entry at the Boston Globe asks: “Should you let a male nurse deliver your baby?” No wonder men still aren’t joining the profession in droves. According to “Men, Medics, and Nursing,” the Viewpoint essay in the June issue of AJN, 

The proportion of women in medicine has been profoundly altered in the past generation, but not so that of men in nursing. The 2004 federal survey of the RN population found that only 5.8% of RNs were men. This results from the profession’s use of caring philosophies that perpetuate the stereotype of women being more caring than men, as well as from the use of language that isn’t gender neutral and the failure to recruit men. As a member of an undergraduate admissions committee, I see an unconscious preference being given to younger women applicants to nursing programs, with recruiting efforts being directed primarily at undergraduate women.

The author, an associate professor of nursing at the University of North Carolina, makes a good case that the training for medics in the U.S. military is as good or better than that found in many associate’s degree nursing programs; veterans who have been trained as medics, he argues, could be used to alleviate the nursing shortage.

His claim that there’s a “stereotype of women being more caring than men” is an interesting one. If he’s right, maybe the stereotypes extend even to the language we use to describe men who are nurses. Here’s an excerpt from “I Am Not a Male Nurse,” a 2006 AJN Viewpoint. It received a lot of letters at the time, and it’s still relevant:

Many people seem to feel that men are not only emotionally different from women, but that men are somehow emotionally inferior-that they’re not as capable of caring. I’m saddened that men need to assert their worth and abilities as caregivers, rather than being accepted and valued in that role in the same way that women are.

As if the stereotypes aren’t enough to deal with, it turns out that nursing may actually be more dangerous for men than for women: WorkplaceViolenceNews.com recently drew attention to a study that found a higher number of male nurses than female nurses may be subject to both physical and emotional abuse by patients—perhaps due to the fact that they are more likely to be assigned the most unstable or violent patients.

What’s your take? How soon will we see a prime time TV series with a lead character who’s a nurse who just happens to be a man—or a man who just happens to be a nurse?

Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor

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16 comments

  1. No, Caroline, sexism is discrimination by sex. Period.

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  2. This article is misguided. Sexism is a systemic and pervasive mistreatment of women. Because it is a system and thus supported by an institution, in this instance healthcare, reverse system cannot exist. Men can be discriminated against, but they cannot, by definition, experience sexism.

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  3. I am the wife of a nurse that has been excluded from peer training, dismissed from more than 1 job for “he said, she said” nebulous claims from unidentified peers who were not obligated to step forward for mediation, etc. No counseling. No probation. No hearing his side. No corroboration. Secure, professional nurses have not been the problem..it is usually someone with multiple emotional problems who uses sabotage, body language, ostricizing, and spreading rumors. In this litigious age, administrators are far too likely to pull the trigger versus examining and correcting the culture. I do believe that female dominated cultures can be just as discriminatory against males as the reverse work setting. I an a rehab therapist and have been a manager and recognize the gamesmanship that goes on. He loves being a nurse. He is good at what he does. But that does not seem to be enough anymore. Sadly, I do not know if he has the heart to take a chance on one more nursing job..I just want him to find something that gives him satisfaction and lets him feel good about what he is doing with his life

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  4. I just want to know why guys who are in nursing speak gentler then women in same feild. I have just noticed this in all dr apts and what not (and don’t tell me cuz I’m hot I’m not) that women who are nurses do this do that. Guy nurse please do this please do that. Its just friendly way of saying things. Not that their aren’t execptions their are but overall guy nurses are kinder and gentler then women nurses and I want to know why.

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  5. The amount of reverse sexism in nursing is crazy, even from administration and it’s legally impossible to do anything. I have been denied raises and other positions within nursing I was more than qualified for, I started with several dollars in less pay for no reason other than being male. Forced to do janitorial positions while short staffed, and was the butt end of most forced disciplinary action I had nothing to do with. Despite being highly praised by patients and family members, even requested on a personal basis, this only made the sexism worse. Finally I couldn’t take it and can no longer help people without the fear of being harassed.

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  6. I have to agree with what I have read thus far, sexual discrimination for me began as early as the college I trained at. I can a recall the instructor who was teaching med admin via IM and how she asked me to leave when two of my fellow classmates wanted to practice giving injections on each other at the ventral gluteal site. Thankfully one of my girls piped up and said she didn’t care if I stayed as at that moment I was being ushered to the door. Instead the instructor looked me in the eyes and said I wouldn’t be comfortable with a man in the same room as her for such an injection, I found that statement to be odd as her doctor/gynaecologist was a man. Like ever one else on this page I have had patients, male and female alike, ask for a female nurse. I have watched as med students followed a physician, all male, walk into a room I was just asked to leave for being a man. For the first two years of my career I received nothing for patients but total care male patients that were awaiting long term care placement, and this was in an acute care setting. Well that’s not entirely true, I did receive some female or younger male patients, they were confused and violent, coming off of drugs and violent, or suicidal and violent. I was told when I first got into nursing that nurses eat their own. This I have found to be true amongst many but not all of the female nurses I have worked with. I have also observes that nursing is looked upon more as a job rather than a profession, after all, if nurses were truly seen as professionals much of the abuse that is being heaped upon nurses as a whole wouldn’t occur quite as much and maybe the respect we see other professions such as the police, firefighters, lawyers, and physicians receiving from the public might start to be shown toward the nursing profession as well. Personally I believe we have to start seeing and treating fellow nurses as professionals in a viable profession. Because we catch enough abuse as nurses from outside the realm of nursing we don’t need to add to the stress load we already carry.

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  7. I’ve been a nurse for 24 years. I worked at the same hospital for 23 years. I’ve worked ED, PACU, MS, ICU, IMCU, PCU, have been a house supervisor, and an ACM in the ICU. I left my position after 23 years due to sexual discrimination. No lawyer would take my case. One even said, “grow up, be a man, suck it up, go back to school and be a doctor”.

    I’ve been working agency for 10mths, and recently hired in at a local hospital in the ICU as a staff nurse, after working there as agency, and was asked by the CM to “come on board”. I got an abbreviated orientation, very little order entry training. I’m less that 2 weeks from my “90 day” and only one of my preceptors(all female) would fill out my check-off sheet, or do an eval. When I spoke to the CM she said, ” if I haven’t come down on you, you can assume things are ok”. It’s a joke! I had an awful night with a 400lb isolation vent patient, and had to take an unstable GI bleed, start 3 IV’s a foley, hang fluids for low BP, give FFP and PRBCs, call for orders and consults, try to figure out what the transferring unit had/had not done, as they did not note any orders or chart any meds, and the only thing that the recieving nurses cared about was that I did not review all of his meds with his attending. Very sad. I busted my tail on this pt. and tried to prioritize and do what would keep him alive, and got no recognition for it. I’m thinking of leaving nursing all together. I’m so sad….

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  8. I think it depends the area of nursing and the geographical areas that you are working in. For example, in a local psychiatric unit in the San Francisco Bay Area, you sometimes have more than 50% of the nurses who are male during a shift. In this kind of environment, the discrimination factor goes down. Also the nature of the acute setting, everyone works as a team and everyone covers each other’s back (regardless whether you are male, female, nurses, doctors, social workers, OTs, and even medical secretaries). What really matters is whether one is competent. Actually from experience, the best shift combination is something like a 50/50 or 60/40 mix of male/female nurses.

    Now if one is in a maternity setting, then my guess is that there will be more potential discrimination – direct or indirect.

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  9. I am a registered nurse. I started out in the navy as a hospital corpsman. I went through the advanced hospital corps school, earning a BS from George Washington University in conjunction with this one year full time program. I challenged the LVN state boards in 1975 and the RN NCLEX Boards in 1986. I count my nursing career from the day I graduated from basic hospital corps school in 1971 and started working on the wards at a navy hospital passing medications, performing dressing changes and treatments, giving bed baths, and performing all of the other nursing duties. I have also earned masters degrees and have been in administrator and director positions. I’ve worked in ER’s, ICU’s, helicopters, ambulances, delivered numerous babies, assisted in surgery, run clinics, taught in nursing school, and a lot more…

    I have experienced a great deal of sexual discrimination from women nurses. I have had women say to me. “You don’t belong in our profession.” I have had women question my sexual orientation in the workplace. I have been given assignments based on my sex and size, not on my qualifications. I have had some patients say they don’t want a man and others lauding what a great nurse I was. Remember the “Focker” movies? I think nursing should do more to attract men into the profession. If women want equality then be equal. Men can be just as caring and nurturing as women. I was a single dad working full time for many years. I really think there should be a name change for men in the nursing profession because we do not have mamory glands. The name “medic” would serve us well and also serve to recruit the well trained military medical men and women into nursing. It is a shame we have to ask for this name specification, but I think it is necessary to overcome societal sterotypes.

    Almost all of the catalogs for scrubs have women on the covers. Almost all of the nursing journals have women throughout and speak in the feminine when referring to nurses. It goes on and on. I remember a doctor calling for a nurse and I responded, he said, “I don’t want you, I want a nurse.” I said, “I am a nurse and the only one available right now.” He allowed me to assist and afterwards appologized. But he added, “You sure weren’t what I expected.” I smiled and said, “Maybe I would be if you were a woman.” He laughed and we went on our way.

    There have been tons of incidents I could recount, but the time it would take would be too long.

    God bless all of us who go in harms way.

    Laurence Macurda, MA,MS,RN

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  10. [...] fewer) of nurses who are men will feel excluded if every generic AJN nurse is a she—and it’s hard enough to attract men to this profession as it is. Why alienate them [...]

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  11. Change the name of the profession? That’s interesting and a solution I hadn’t heard. I’d like to think the public is smart enough to realize that nursing – like medicine, law, the ministry among other things, is not determined by gender but by ability, skill and commitment.

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  12. Interesting line of thoughts. I graduated with my BSN in 1970 from the U. of Colorado. The same percentage of men in nursing exists today is did then. Several changes are necessary:

    1. We must change the name of the profession. Nurse, derived from nursing, is a gender specific name. Stewardess had to migrate to Flight Attendant to become a gender neutral profession
    2. High school guidance counselors need to recognize the value of a nursing career choice for all bright students, male and female
    3. When we approach gender equity in the profession, questions about caring and other issues will disappear

    About medics and corpsmen – the armed services are blessed to have such brave men and women. Their training is rudimentary and focused on first aid, preventive medicine and even the advanced training is on the medical model. I was a Navy Corpsman for 9 years and a Navy Nurse for 17 more, including a stint as an instructor at the Navy’s Hospital Corps School. When I went to college, I was allowed to test out and demonstrate clinical nursing competencies – I eliminated about a third of the requirements for the nursing portion of my BSN. We should have a standardized process for doing the same in our ADN programs for the medics/corpsmen of today. My estimate is that experienced corpsmen/medics would be able to shorten their education by 30-40% but will still need course and clinical work in true nursing curricula.

    Finally, I must say I have experienced gender bias in the general public. I remember my daughter coming home telling me “You can’t be a nurse Daddy, the teacher said only women are nurses”. I never experienced gender bias in the workplace. If anything, I benefitted from being in a position to offer unique perspectives and being the “guy” on the unit. Nursing (or whatever we should call it) is a wonderful career full of challenges, opportunities and a lifetime of growth – all in the service of mankind…how great is that?

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  13. Thank you for the interesting, insightful, and informative article.
    I am a male R.N..
    I posted an article on “All Nurses.com” in the Men in Nursing group with the topic:
    “Discrimination Against Men in Nursing”. There are currently over 156 replies to this topic. The great majority of male nurses replying to this article agree with the contention that discrimination against men in nursing in education and employment is very prevalent and accepted. Of course, these same male nurses adamantly object to the same.
    I am very gratified by the fact that these male nurses have demonstrated the courage to stand up to and object to this same gender discrimination. Some female nurses have courageously, also, in response to this post,stated that discrimination against men in nursing is very prevalent.
    There is no efficacious promulgation of laws which prevent gender discrimination against men in nursing education nor employment. Therefore, men in nursing, are subject to the arbitrary, discriminatory, and discretionary actions that have resulted in this same gender discrimination against men in nursing. Women, of course, have laws which are rigorously enforced which not only prevent gender discrimination against them but, in effect, give them preference over men in education and employment, inclusive of nursing.
    This is extremely unjust,especially in an employment field such as nursing in which approximately 94% of the nurses are women.
    I agree with the article’s other conclusion that well trained medics should be allowed to take RN licensure examinations. We must support our veterans! I am a veteran! We had the greatest respect for our Combat Medics when I was an Infantryman with the US Army in Vietnam!

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  14. This is discussion which I have with my friends who are also RN’s. In many instances, I see male nurses, like myself, delivering even better care than my female colleagues. Men tend to be more objective. That’s a fact. We tend to see patients as people who need our attention and care just as well as women do. Objectiveness does not mean rudeness. I also agree that it is not fair to men to say that we cannot provide high-quality care to our patients just because, as men, we cannot identify ourselves with the patients’ perspective. Which is, in most cases, of physical and emotional dependency. I think it’s time for us to stop perpetuating the reverse sexism. Equality for us all.

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  15. I think male nurses face stereotyping from some patients for sure, but I also think they’re also more likely to be hired for positions because they’re minorities in the field. . .which is good, in some ways, to try to even out the gender gap in nursing but bad since women are obviously lower wage earners in the workforce overall.

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  16. I’m a male and I’ve been a nurse for 4 years. I say absolutely there is reverse sexism. Nursing school text books would refer to nurses as she and her. Patients will ask “are you the doctor?” When you tell them you’re a nurse you get that funny look of “huh?” Patients have told me “I want a lady nurse” when I’m completely able to handle their problem.
    I’m a nurse because I care and I want to help. The same type of feelings that drive firefighters, police, and paramedics. But when was the last time you heard “a male firefighter? That’s weird. He must be gay.”

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