The number of men who take up nursing as a profession has always been very low, compared to female nurses. Typically, men who become nurses do so because they were not accepted at medical school but still wish to have a career in healthcare. It is rarely their first choice as a career, and this is due to several reasons.
From the days of Florence Nightingale, nursing is a field that has been identified with a soft and gentle nature and feminine ways of caring. Florence is even known to have claimed that the ‘horny hands’ of men were in fact detrimental to caring! Historically women have always been the caregivers in times of family illness, and this is because men were considered lacking in the compassionate and patient temperament required for ‘mothering’ and nurturing.
Generally, men are held back from entering this field by public perceptions about the field of nursing being dominated by women. Men prefer not to enter a professional that is overwhelmingly perceived as being feminine, and feel that it is not ‘macho’ to become a nurse. Many male nursing students quit the course without completing it, and when the reasons behind this are analysed it is hardly surprising that this is the case.
Male nursing students are quick to point out that this stereotyping starts right from nursing school. There are very few male teaching faculty, and nursing educators and textbooks refer to nurses using the words ‘she’ and ‘her’. When studying the history of nursing, earliest references are made only to women in this field and there is absolutely no presentation of male nurses in history. This lack of gender neutrality lays a strong foundation for the gender discrimination against males in the nursing world.
Then again, male registered nurses are discriminated against in many departments, particularly so in obstetrics and gynaecology where they are excluded from several positions due to their gender. Even if a man shows an interest in working on the maternity floor, he may not be hired for such a position, or may be considered as the last resort. This does seem unfair as even for nursing care that requires the intimate care of male patients, women are not excluded.
These negative stereotypes, while still prevalent, are slowly but surely reducing in today’s medical world. There are heartening instances of nursing educational programs that are being reviewed to create equal opportunities for all nursing students. Just as there is no discrimination between students based on race, religion, or skin colour, there should also be no bias against students based on gender.
The tide is certainly turning, and if you are a male who would like to enter this field, you should definitely explore the options open to you and get the nursing qualifications that you require to get started on this career. With the acute shortage of nursing personnel the world over, we can certainly do with more qualified, skilled and compassionate nurses to fill the growing deficit in this field – regardless of whether they are females or males!