Shattering Male Nurse Stereotypes
By Kris Lamey, Contributor
In the movie Meet the Parents, Ben Stiller plays a male nurse who receives constant teasing from people who make assumptions about his career. The stigma against men entering the nursing field is unfair and widespread, and for aspiring male nurses, stereotypes are often a deterrent to pursuing a worthwhile career.
Although some women do prefer female nurses in fields like obstetrics or gynecology, most don't have a gender preference when it comes to nurses or physicians. There is opportunity for men in all nursing fields, but many turn to other occupations to avoid these existing stigmas.
Visit the TravelNursing.com website to learn more about working as a male nurse and to find nursing jobs in areas that interest you.
Statistics on men in nursing
Before we delve into specific stereotypes, let's look at how men are represented in the field. Historically, nursing has been a female-dominated workforce. However, the number of men entering the field is on the rise, according to the U.S. Census Bureau:
- 3.2 million nurses are female, and they account for 91 percent of all nurses; only 330,000 are male.
- Men represent 41 percent of nurse anesthetists, which is one of the highest paying specialties.
- In 1970, just 2.7 percent of RNs were men. As of 2011, this number increased to 9.6 percent.
- The percentage of male licensed vocational nurses or licensed practical nurses has increased too. In 1970, the percentage of men in these fields was only 3.9 percent. In 2011, it grew to 8.1 percent.
- On average, male RNs make over $5,000 more than females in annual salary.
3 common male nurse stereotypes
Let's see what the experts say about shattering male nurse stereotypes.
1. Nurses are female
One common male nurse stereotype stems from the female majority in nursing. As a result, many people simply haven't encountered a male nurse, according to Timothy J. Legg, RN-BC, academic program coordinator at Walden University School of Nursing.
"Using humor can help address the stereotype of nursing being for females by flipping their perspective. When I was a young RN, I had started a job in a nursing home where an older adult female resident mentioned, 'Oh, you're a male nurse!' I responded with, 'No, I take care of women, too!' She laughed at that one!"
Sometimes, no matter how patient you are, you may hear inappropriate comments that are hard to ignore. Faisal H. Aboul-Enein, RN, a faculty member of Walden University School of Nursing, suggests finding good mentors in the male nurse community to help you stay focused.
"It's important to keep in mind that patients expect you to do the right thing and want to see you follow through with providing good care, irrespective of gender. Male stereotypes are pervasive in the industry, but you can help address this by identifying and surrounding yourself with good mentors and staying focused on why you entered the profession in the first place. Keep the long view in mind," Aboul-Enein recommends.
2. Males nurses are studying to be doctors
Another common male nurse stereotype is that they're studying to be doctors and that their nursing career is a temporary gig. Treat such comments by patients as teachable moments.
Legg offers this perspective to men considering the nursing field: "Another way to help combat stereotypes is by educating the patient on how nursing — like other fields — is not a gender-specific role. I've had patients ask me how many years do I have left before I become a doctor or others who have mistaken the female doctor as the nurse and me as the doctor. It can be hard to address preconceived notions but taking the time to educate them can help."
3. Male nurses are homosexual
Nursing is growing faster than other occupations. With a median salary of $70,000, it's similar to the average wage for college graduate, which makes it an attractive career choice for men and women alike.
While women have been making inroads into male-dominated occupations for decades, men enter a nursing field with a significant female majority. This imbalance can lead to the propagation of male nurses stereotypes, including the belief that male nurses are gay.
"It's important to note this stereotype is often fueled by a patient's own insecurities and fears. Don't take it personally; keep calm and be patient with them. Again, educating patients on the evolving role of nursing and how it's not a gender-specific role can help combat this stereotype," advises George Zangaro, RN, FAAN, Associate Dean at Walden University School of Nursing. "Although the nursing industry is overwhelmingly female, I encountered a different environment in the military. A larger portion of the nursing workforce in the military is comprised of male nurses."
Facing stereotypes through education and awareness
Economic factors have impacted many men, causing them to expand their employment choices. Job declines in trade, due to automation and the aftermath of the housing crisis, make nursing a more attractive option in a shrinking job pool. An increase in healthcare wages also created more interest across the board.
To top it off, some men are just genuinely interested in the field.
Troy Steckler, senior vice president of clinical operations at MedExpress, speaks candidly about male nurse stereotypes. "Don't let stereotypes fool or deter you. Men play a critical role in the healthcare system as nurses, and it's extremely rewarding to care for patients at this level," says Steckler.
"I've heard countless times that nursing is usually a job for women, but it's far from the truth. I have been able to provide compassionate care in a kind, genuine way, just as much as a woman in my shoes would be able to do."