Rethinking Nursing Gender Stereotypes

The feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s brought many more women into the workforce in general, and many more specifically into male-dominated professions. Unfortunately, the opposite has not yet held true for men in nursing, with less than 10% of registered nurses being male as recently as 2011. An overwhelming majority of nurses being female is a distinctly 20th century phenomenon. In prior centuries, men from religious orders sometimes provided nursing services, and there were even nursing schools in the US for men only.

Rethinking Nursing Gender Stereotypes

An occupation that shows this similar slow trend towards gender equalization for women is engineering, which increased from 10.2% women engineers in 2004 to 11.7% in 2013. The increase for men as RNs for the same time period is from 7.8% in 2004 to 9.9% in 2013. Women have otherwise gradually made up a growing share of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. For instance, 26.1% of mathematical or computer scientists are women as of 2013. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, accessed from this site)

Interestingly, while there are countless articles and reports, as well as educational and social encouragement, recently examining how to increase the amount of females who pursue STEM occupations, the inverse does not seem to be as prevalent for males in nursing. In other words, men are not encouraged to pursue nursing to the same degree that women are encouraged to pursue STEM occupations in the 21st century.

Rethinking nursing gender stereotypes means taking a look at those that exist.

Gender Stereotype #1: Women are more caring and nurturing than men.

Men have historically participated in the caregiving of nursing, as before the 1900s, it was actually a male-dominated field. In the military, there is a larger proportion of male nurses than in the general population of US nurses. Men and women may care and nurture in different ways, which may be more or less overt between the two genders, but the nursing profession can certainly benefit from varying methods of patient care.

Gender Stereotype #2: Male nurses are more likely to quit nursing.

Men tend to pursue nursing education at an older age, on average. They are generally in the minority in their nursing education programs. With different physical characteristics compared to their female counterparts, they sometimes feel that they stand out among their peers. It is actually quite a testament to men in nursing that they are an increasing population despite often being discouraged along the way.

Gender Stereotype #3: Male nurses earn more.

On average, male nurses do earn more than their female counterparts. However, this is not more likely pronounced than in other professions. If fact, the nursing wage gap is smaller than the average across all occupations, with women earning 93 cents for every dollar men earn as RNs compared to only 77 cents for all occupations. Recent research on pay gaps has shown that women are less likely to negotiate a higher salary than men. The 2008 national sample study of registered nurses (NSSRN) found that men earn more than women in nursing and that men are more likely than women to leave a nursing job due to salary. Men also tend to choose higher paying nursing specialties, like becoming a nurse anesthetist (41% of nurse anesthetists are men).

Gender Stereotype #4: Male nurses are more feminine than typical males.

A 1996 study by L.E. McCutcheon concluded that the nursing profession does not make males more feminine, since experienced male nurses surveyed in the Orlando, Florida area were no more feminine than inexperienced male nurses. A National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) membership study in 2009 concluded that male nursing students are very masculine and no more feminine than the average male. While some studies have had different or questionable findings, enough evidence exists to conclude that male nurses should not be stereotyped as feminine.

Gender Stereotype #5: Male nurses are good for the heavy lifting.

Another common stereotype facing male nurses is that they are at least valued for their physical abilities. While it is true that many direct patient care nursing roles do require lifting, it isn’t a responsibility held by only the male nurses. Yes, males are physically larger than females, on average, which can sometimes translate into added strength. But, neither male nor female nurses should seek to propagate the stereotype that male nurses are just good for the heavy lifting and other tasks involving physical strength.

Gender Stereotype #6: Male nurses are accurately portrayed in television.

Satire in television often takes many of the stereotypes about male nurses and exaggerated them in fictional characters. A study by Dr. Roslyn Weaver published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing shows that TV’s portrayal of male nurses makes it harder to recruit men into nursing and to retain them as nurses. Further, males who do choose nursing as a profession have to combat the negative stereotypes that are perpetuated in television shows and movies.

Have you encountered these or other gender-based stereotypes in nursing or while deciding whether you wanted to pursue a nursing career? If so, you’ll understand why rethinking nursing gender stereotypes is an important priority going forward.

If you are ready to overcome stereotypes by becoming a nurse, we can help you find a nursing school today.

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