Overcoming Stigma: Proud to be a Male Nurse

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This article from an American blog, RealCareGivers, highlights many issues male nurses and midwives experience around the world. Do these challenges sound familiar to you?  

When many people think of a nurse, they picture a woman. That might have been true in 1970, when roughly 2 percent of nurses were men. But by 2018, that number grew to nearly 10 percent of all nurses. Indeed, attitudes surrounding male nurses have changed, and the field has opened its arms to men. However, male nurses may still face some stigma or difficulty fitting in compared to their female colleagues.

Male nurses are nurses, first and foremost. As more men enter the nursing field, the double-takes and mistaken identities decrease and men find pride and purpose in nursing. That said, some men may still hesitate to follow their calling as a nurse because of stigma. We explored the unique challenges and opportunities faced by male nurses.

The Joys of Being a Male Nurse

Men get involved in nursing for the same reasons as their female counterparts: to care for patients. Andrew Craig, an RN who works as a travel nurse, said he started out wanting to be a paramedic. “I volunteered in a local ED before nursing school because I thought I wanted to be a paramedic but quickly fell in love the work nurses did,” he says. “I knew that I was meant to be a nurse after a very short while. There’s something intangible and wonderful about looking at someone, they look back, — then, for a fleeting moment, you both realize that you are there for each other. The human connection makes nursing special.”

Kirk Renfro, a registered nurse at MedExpress, echoes this sentiment and emphasizes how making a difference in others’ ongoing care and well-being feels empowering. “I love that nursing offers me the ability to care for patients when and where they need it most, and play an important role in their ongoing care and well-being,” he says. “It feels like I really have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of my patients.”

Like all nurses, male nurses need to be in touch with their emotions. They will find themselves acting as backbone for a family that just got bad news, crying with a patient or sharing in the joy of parenthood with a brand-new family. There’s always a thrill of excitement associated with the medical field, too. Nurses are often closest to patients when the “Code Blue” call goes out, sending a rush of adrenalin through even the most seasoned nurses.

The bottom line is that most male nurses love nursing for the same reason as their female counterparts do. Nursing’s balance between technical medical knowledge and high-level emotional intelligence is what makes nursing such a rewarding and challenging field.

The Challenges of Being a Male Nurse

Even though one in 10 nurses is a man, some patients still expect to see a woman walk into the hospital room or doctor’s office to check their vital signs or administer medication. It’s also true that some hospitals have far fewer male nurses, while others have a more even ratio.

Male nurses will need to be thick-skinned about the fact that some patients will prefer to see a female nurse. The best thing to do is try to let the stereotypes and stigma roll off, and don’t take them too personally. Most hospitals will make it easy to switch assignments to accommodate a patient and make them comfortable.

It’s also an unfortunate reality that some patients will make assumptions about a male nurse’s sexual orientation or that the male nurse is around to “be the muscle of the team.”

“I’ve encountered both,” says Craig. “They don’t really bother me. I usually just shrug it off and move forward with my shift.”

Minor slights from a patient are just that ­— small annoyances. If you keep an open mind and a positive attitude, these insensitive jabs should not reduce your love of nursing. It can be tough to balance the emotional challenges of nursing with any extra baggage, so be sure to take time for self-care when you need it.

And then there are practical issues, too. For example, in the past, male nurses had few options for uniforms made especially for their line of work. But as the field evolves, it’s getting easier and easier to find men’s slip resistant shoes and men’s scrubs, specifically designed to meet the needs of male nurses.

Addressing Challenges

It’s not just patients and the medical issue at large that can be less supportive of male nurses. Male nurses may run into hurdles during their education as well. Renfro notes that finding a preceptor can be extra challenging as a male nurse – some preceptors flat out told him that they’d rather work with females. (Your preceptor is both your mentor and educator, so pairing with a good preceptor is important.)

Once he connected with a good preceptor, he found that he loved showing people his compassionate side. He revels in smashing the stereotype that male nurses are less emotionally caring than their female counterparts.

Darnell Morgan of N.U.R.S.E., Inc. points out that coworkers can pose challenges or provide support as well. He says that in general, he loves being on the floor and his coworkers love him. As a tall man, he could occasionally step in to help carry things or pull tall items off shelves. It’s a small superpower, but he loves being helpful.

On the flip side, Morgan points out how painful and damaging sexism can be. While a male nurse may benefit from societal preferences for males in leadership roles, he said it can be really damaging for a team when a “green” male nurse is promoted faster than an overlooked five-year female veteran. While this is not necessarily the male nurse’s fault, Morgan says that paying attention to team dynamics will help smooth over any administrative sexism.

In general, nurses agree that it’s best to take stereotypes and turn them into opportunities to shine. Your excellence will pave the road for even more future male nurses.

Advice From One Male Nurse to Another

Male nurses lean heavily on the old stoic philosophy: the obstacle is the way. Turning potential stigmas and weaknesses into central points of strength will make any professional stand out. This is especially true for male nurses who are working against some societal perceptions of masculinity and femininity — and what a nurse is and isn’t.

If you think that nursing is the right path for you, don’t hesitate. You will not be a “male” nurse — you will be a nurse. There is no mention of sex on your nursing license, and your gender doesn’t dictate your ability to provide high-quality, compassionate care. Don’t let stereotypes deter you.

“Go for the gold! Don’t stop at the BSN level,” says Morgan. “As a male nurse, you must go as far in your education until you have a terminal degree. This will align you properly as you advance in your career.”

If you’d rather not pursue top-level education, that is just fine. The demand for nurses is growing quickly, and the variety of positions within the field continues to grow.

The Takeaway

As long as you wear your nursing badge on your sleeve — or your scrubs! — and put your patients first, you’ll be well on your way to a rewarding nursing career regardless of your gender.

If you have an experience you’d like to share, please get in touch here: nurseuncut@nswnma.asn.au. Whether it was something that occurred in a single shift or about your entire career so far, we want to know.

1 COMMENT

  1. I would like to say as a male nurse at westmead hospital I have encountered all of these situations and many more. It can be quite demoralizing when patients say things like I thought you were a doctor or why did you become a nurse its a females job. Its still hard for me to overcome these stigmas but luckily where I work we have many male nurses which helps quite a lot when you can all relate to each others struggles. Being male doesn’t make you any less than a female nurse. Being in this situation also makes me realise what woman have being going through with their fight to achieve equality in many other areas of the work force.

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