Many people experience some kind of discrimination, stereotyping, or even prejudice against them at some point in their lives because of their race, sex, sexual orientation—and even sometimes because of their jobs.
While more and more men are entering the nursing field, it’s still a profession that is primarily comprised of women. So we asked a number of male nurses what they’ve experienced, how they’ve dealt with it, and their advice for other nurses who may experience something similar.
In this article, we begin with what kinds of stereotypes they’ve experienced.
Are You the Doctor?
Nearly every male nurse we interviewed said that he had, at least at one time, been mistaken for a doctor. They all, though, handle it in their own ways.
“I have walked into an exam room where a patient is waiting, and before I had a chance to introduce myself, they said, ‘I thought I was seeing Dr. Weber.’ I just smile and say, ‘You are seeing Dr. Weber. You just get to see me first. I’m Jonathan. I’m a nurse, and I’m going to check your INR before he comes in,’” explains Jonathan S. Basler, RN, a clinical nurse at West Front Primary Care in Traverse City, Michigan. “Then they usually say, ‘You’re not as pretty as his old nurse.’ When I worked in nursing homes, it was common for me to hear, ‘Thanks, Doc!’ as I was leaving a room—and it didn’t matter how many times I introduced myself as their nurse.”
Keynan Hobbs, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC, a clinical nurse on the PTSD Clinical Team at VA San Diego Healthcare in California, says that he is mistaken for a doctor all the time and was even back in nursing school. “It happened even more when I moved into an advanced-practice nursing role and wore a white lab coat every day,” he says. Because he works in psychotherapy now, he is often called “doctor.” His response is, “I’m not a doctor; I’m an advanced-practice nurse, and you can call me Keynan or Mr. Hobbs.” Although he doesn’t find this now in psychotherapy, he says that when working in a hospital, “People would look right past me when I told them I was a nurse because some see nurses as less powerful in that setting.”
Sometimes, nurses use humor. Jeremy Scott, MSN, RN, CCRN, a resource pool nurse at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says that patients will sometimes be on the phone, and when he walks into a room they say to the person they’re talking to, “My doctor is here. I have to go.” He then tells them that he is their nurse. “People have asked, ‘When will you go back to become a doctor?’ and I jokingly tell them, ‘I’m not interested in all those loans. I enjoy being a nurse.’”
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Sometimes, patients or their family members don’t want a male nurse—simply because he’s a guy.
“I’ve experienced stereotyping as a male nurse. I’ve had patients tell me they don’t want me to be their nurse. I’ve been called gay. I’ve been told by family members that they don’t want me to care for their loved one,” says Carl A. Brown, RN, BSN, director of patient care services for BrightStar Care of Western Riverside County in Sun City, California. “As a nurse—but especially as a male nurse—you need to have a strong outside to let those comments bounce off. But you also need to have a warm heart for those who hold the prejudices. I think it is important for people to know that my gender does not prevent me from providing quality care to each of my clients.”
There are instances in which patients will request a female nurse because of religious reasons. “I respect patients’ wishes because they are in control of the management of their health, so I simply switch assignments. I’m never offended by this,” says Donnell Carter, MBA, MS, CRNA, a clinical staff nurse anesthetist for Northstar Anesthesia at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Robert Whigham, RN, a staff nurse at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia says that it’s common for patients to have preconceived notions about his level of compassion because he is a guy. He’s found that patients in maternity wards and pediatrics may ask for someone else. “They are sometimes uncomfortable with a male nurse helping them,” he says.
In the psychological setting, Hobbs says that “someone who has experienced sexual trauma and doesn’t feel comfortable talking to a man about it” may ask for a female therapist. If they later want to talk with a male, he says that he will be available for them.
Specific Stereotypes for Male Nurses
Les Rodriguez, MSN, MPH, RN, ACNS-BC, APRN, clinical nurse specialist/clinical education specialist pain management at Methodist Richardson Medical Center in Richardson, Texas, says that while in his more than 30-year career as a nurse he hasn’t experienced discrimination, he has come across stereotypes that people think regarding male nurses. They are: all male nurses are gay, men only get into nursing so they can see women naked, men who become nurses are failed doctors, and men go into nursing because it’s easy.
Rodriguez disputes all of them: “In my experience, the number of male nurses who identify as gay is not greater than that reported in the general population. [Re: Seeing women naked] That is an expensive and long, drawn out way just to see what you could see in magazines or strip bars. [Re: Failed doctors] This has to do with relegating the physician to a higher order of professional…Yes, there are some individuals who were in medical school and didn’t survive the program for various reasons, and so they took their academic credits and directed them towards nursing. That does not make them ‘failed doctors.’ It makes them very knowledgeable nurses. [Re: It’s easy] That nursing is easy is a major myth. You are required to learn a lot of detailed information in a very short time…Nursing is not an easy profession, and many males that I have encountered go into nursing because they have a caring disposition.”
Now that we’ve outlined what some of the prejudices and/or stereotypes are regarding male nurses, the next step is to educate them on what they can do. Stay tuned for part two of our series next week where we’ll explore the actions that male nurses can take.