As if nursing wasn’t already tough enough, male nurses have to contend with a lot of negative, gender-based stereotypes whenever they don their cotton scrubs. These stereotypes make it more difficult for male nurses to do their jobs well, especially if patients are suspicious of their competence just because they’re male. Here are six male nursing stereotypes that need to be shattered.
1. All nurses are women.
While it’s true that women make up a very high proportion of active nurses, there are some men who work as nurses, too. Approximately 89 percent of nurses are women, and 11 percent are men. While this isn’t a high number, it does prove that not all nurses are women. Other numbers make it clear why nursing is an attractive profession regardless of your gender. The 2019 median pay for registered nurses was $73,300 per year, much higher than the median annual wage for all workers, which was $39,810. If you’re a man looking for a well-paying and fast-growing career in health care, nursing might be the ticket.
2. Nursing is an inherently female role.
Men are expected to be ambitious and career-driven, while women are expected to be caring and nurturing. As a result, caregiving activities are often associated with women’s roles. This includes child care, cooking, household chores, and tending to the sick. Some patients may assume that men lack the nature and bedside manner to be good nurses simply because of their gender, which just isn’t true. This stereotype is most apparent in OB-GYN specialties, since many female patients are uncomfortable with having a male nurse and don’t believe they can provide the care that they need.
Since most nurses are female and most doctors are male, some people make the leap to conclude that any male nurses must have tried to make it as doctors, but couldn’t cut it. This stereotype is harmful because it treats nursing as inferior to being a physician, when, in fact, both roles are necessary to patient care. Without nurses to actually take care of patients and execute the day to day duties, doctors would be able to heal a lot fewer patients. Maybe a few people decided to enroll in nursing school because they couldn’t get into medical school, but the vast majority of nurses—both male and female—have deliberately chosen nursing.
Some patients will also assume that any men wearing stretch scrubs must be doctors in training, a corollary to the above stereotype. They may ask male nurses how long they’re planning to work as a nurse before they become a doctor, or ask when they will be going to medical school. Again, this stereotype is fueled by the belief that nursing is inferior to practicing medicine. If patients make these kinds of statements, try to use it as a teaching moment to educate them about how nursing is not a gender-specific field and explain why nursing is just as legitimate as being a physician.
5. Men become nurses because it’s easier.
This stereotype is also related to the idea that being a doctor is superior to being a nurse. In this case, people believe that being a nurse is easier than becoming a physician and, therefore, assume that any male nurse was too lazy to try for a more rigorous health care career. Of course, as all nurses know, nursing is a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding career. No matter your gender, it takes resilience and toughness to make it as a nurse—and it is not automatically easier than any other health care profession.
Media is to blame for this stereotype. Male nurses are either not shown at all, or they’re portrayed to be the butt of the joke. For instance, in the 2000 comedy Meet the Parents, Greg Focker (played by Ben Stiller) is a male nurse, and there are running gags throughout the movie that center on making fun of Greg precisely because he is a male nurse and doesn’t work in a more “masculine” profession. Treating male nurses as a joke, rather than taking them seriously, further contributes to stereotypes and undermines the serious work that nurses of all genders do.
These male nursing stereotypes harm male nurses and the patients they’re trying to treat. Help to do your part to dispel these myths by working to educate people whenever they express these stereotypes.