Gender Bias in Nursing: Does it Still Exist?

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Many women will have no problem with a male doctor probing and poking them, but send a nurse into their room, who happens to be male, and all heck can break loose. I've seen it.

Why do we still call nurses who are males, “male nurses?” Is there a difference between being a nurse and a male nurse? We no longer say “female pilot” or “female dentist,” yet we still persist with “male nurse.”

Many women will have no problem with a male doctor probing and poking them, but send a nurse into their room, who happens to be male, and all heck can break loose. I’ve seen it. Why is there that double standard that a male doctor can do a pelvic exam, but a male nurse can’t give a bedpan?

When my daughter was 15 she had appendicitis. The surgeon had to do a traditional incision because my daughter was at risk for perforating. Of course, having surgery is painful and she didn’t do very well the first few hours post-op. Her night nurse encouraged her to get out of bed, but she wouldn’t — it hurt too much. She wouldn’t listen to me – doesn’t matter if mom is a nurse! Come change of shift, she had a nurse who was male. He told my daughter that she had to get up, not unkindly, and that she really didn’t have a choice. Sure enough, after he left the room, she tried. She didn’t get very far that first try, but she got a bit farther the second, and then did much better the third time.

I’m sure that had she had a female nurse, she still would have gotten out of bed eventually, but she seemed to respond so much better to the male influence at that point. I’m not saying that people will listen better to men, what I think is that men offer a different way of handing things and may get different results from different people.

Men who go into nursing for much the same reasons women do. In the not-so-distant past, they were traditionally clustered in psychiatry or orthopedics; sometimes, they could be found in emergency. You’d find the odd male in medicine, surgery, but rarely in clinics, pediatrics and almost never in obstetrics. I know that many men had problems doing their obstetrics rotations as students because patients would refuse to allow them to provide care. In pediatrics, many of the men were looked at with suspicion, much as men who choose to work with children in kindergarten or younger grades.

Other men I know who have gone into nursing have reached for management positions as quickly as they could. I know of one male who is now head nurse of a floor at the age of 28 and, according to a friend who works there, he’s doing the best job of the three head nurses she has had since she has been working there.

As we head into a nursing shortage that gets worse with every month, every week, we should be welcoming of men who want to enter the profession. We should be accepting them as nurses, not as male nurses. We should be encouraging them to follow their desires of where they want to work, not relegate them to the areas we think men belong. Nursing can only improve with the input of different points of view and different ways of doing things and men can bring that to the profession — if we give them that chance.

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