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: 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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