Medicine is one of the most gendered fields in the country, with nursing largely viewed as women’s work. But a new article suggests it’s time to degender nursing, starting with getting rid of the term “male nurse.”
In a concept analysis titled, “Male Nurse,” published by Wiley’s Nursing Forum, Queensborough Community College Professor Randelle Sasa looked deeply at the term and the ways it stigmatizes men and perpetuates a gendered workforce.
“Gendered work creates disparities between men and women; as such, it is a cycle that tends to perpetuate itself to render legitimacy to the patriarchy,” Sasa stated in the article. “The concept of male nurse preserved gendered work with its inherent inequities, which ultimately hurts both men and women in nursing.”
Sasa noted that there is a long tradition of men working as nurses, as early as 250 B.C. But the field took a more gendered turn due to the influence of Florence Nightingale (known as the Mother of Modern Nursing).
Today, men are severely underrepresented in nursing around the world, with men making up 11% of the field in the United Kingdom and less than 1% in China, according to the article. Men comprised 9% of the U.S.’ registered nurse workforce, according to a 2017 survey.
However, there are several reasons men are an extreme minority in nursing, according to Sasa. Stereotypes include the belief that male nurses are sexual deviants, queer, or doctor wannabes who failed medical school.
“Society assigns a ‘lesser’ masculinity, even to an otherwise heterosexual man who chooses a nontraditional career such as nursing,” Sasa explained. “Some nurses report that being male in a female-dominated profession renders them disadvantaged and at a lower status. To counter these stereotypes, male nurses tend to put in considerable effort to ‘prove’ their masculinity by talking about ‘manly’ subject matters, displaying one’s wedding ring, or talking about one’s wife and children.”
Sasa holds that dropping injurious gender-based labels like male nurse would strengthen the profession and create a more gender-balanced workforce.