Just Call Us Nurses: Men in Nursing

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS

Disclosures

August 16, 2012

In This Article

The Problem of Retention

Many of the reasons given for the exodus of men from nursing school and the nursing profession are well known and almost expected. Students and new graduates must face societal stereotypes about men in nursing, challenges in providing intimate care to female patients, and the social isolation and discrimination that often accompany being a minority.[8]

Other hurdles are less expected and can influence not only retention, but the choices men make about specialty area in nursing. When men discuss their dissatisfaction with nursing, the issues that come up over and over, according to O'Lynn, are nurse-to-nurse communication, workplace relationships, and lateral violence.

In a female-dominated work environment, women may have characteristic ways of relating to one another, and commonalities in what they talk about and what interests them. Men who don't participate may be pegged as antisocial. When they witness instances of female lateral violence (bullying), men don't want to get in the middle of it. Men tell O'Lynn that they don't understand how women compete. All of these social factors have a negative effect on morale and prompt many men try to transfer to areas of nursing where there are more men, such as critical care and emergency nursing.

The Male Student Nurse

O'Lynn believes that many of the barriers faced by male student nurses can be traced to the attitudes and expectations of nursing faculty members, which he claims are "stuck in time." Clinical practice often changes first, says O'Lynn, and the academic community may be the last to change. This has a profound effect on the success of the male student in nursing school, because nurse educators expect the male students to be the same as the female students.

When students fail to prosper, both the student and the school share the blame. "All students, including men, need to take accountability to be successful in school, and the school needs to create a climate that helps students be successful. That is the problem. We talk a good talk about embracing diversity, but I believe that nurse educators tend to be very rigid. Change doesn't come easily, or quickly. They have a fixed idea of what students need to do to be a good nurse and are not very flexible."

A good example, says O'Lynn, is caring -- how does someone demonstrate that they care?" Many nurse educators have tunnel vision about how a student shows, or should show, caring. Male students might do so differently from female students, but does the educator recognize and value that? Female nurse educators may expect caring behaviors to be outwardly sensitive and demonstrative, even in men.[9]

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