Male nurse action figure/ gcfairch, flickr

Male nurse action figure/ gcfairch, flickr

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

Men have served in nursing roles since at least the third century, when a special order of men was said to have existed to care for plague victims in Alexandria. And various religious orders seem to have had groups of men devoted to nursing tasks during the Middle Ages.

More recently, a number of men served as nurses or in nursing roles during the U.S. Civil War—Walt Whitman, who extensively visited wounded soldiers during the Civil War, has sometimes been described as one, though he mostly focused on tasks like writing letters for illiterate soldiers, bringing them special foods and necessary items, and providing companionship. (See our article on Whitman from our 100th anniversary issue of October, 2000.)

There were schools of nursing for men since the early 1900s. Last year, we published “My Grandfather’s Unpublished Manuscript” (August, 2012), a wonderful story of how the author (a nurse) found an article describing her grandfather’s experiences during his education and nursing career, which began with graduation from nursing school in 1929.

There were several early articles about male nurses in AJN—the oldest one I found was from March, 1924: “A School of Nursing for Men,” by Kenneth T. Crummer, described the school of nursing for men at the Pennsylvania Hospital and its founding 10 years earlier, in 1914. The final sentence reads, “Who knows but that the nursing text of the future will speak of the nurse, not as ‘she,’ but as ‘he or she?’”

Despite the early presence of men in nursing, today men still represent “fewer than 10% of the RNs licensed since 2005 and fewer than 12% of the students enrolled in baccalaureate nursing programs,” according to the authors of “Men in Nursing,” a CE feature article in the January issue of AJN. The article, as the abstract describes,

examines the ability of the nursing profession to recruit and retain men in nursing schools and in the nursing workforce. The authors consider such educational barriers as role stress, discrimination, and stereotyping, and explore questions of male touch and the capacity of men to care. In identifying challenges faced by men entering or working in a profession in which women predominate, the authors hope to promote actions on the part of nurse leaders, educators, and researchers that may address issues of sex bias and promote greater sexual diversity within nursing.

There’s also a podcast interview (scroll down to select the “Men in Nursing” podcast) with the authors, offering additional insight into the issue from their personal experiences as well as some suggestions for us to consider as we work alongside our male colleagues. Stop and think: do you act differently or treat male colleagues differently than women colleagues? Are your expectations different because of their sex? Do you think men bring the same abilities for caring to their nursing work as women? Read the article and listen to the podcast—you might find yourself reexamining your thinking.

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