by Tri Pham PHD, RN, AOCNP-BC, ANP-BC Minority Nurse Writer
In 2008, there were 3,063,163 licensed registered nurses in the United States. Only 6.6% of those were men and 16.8% were non-Caucasian.1 Despite efforts from nursing schools across the nation to recruit and retain more men and minorities, the results have been fairly modest. In 2010, approximately 11% of the students in baccalaureate programs were men and 26.8% were a racial/ethnic minority.2 We know that student nurses, in general, face many obstacles such as academic pressure. However, studies have shown that male student nurses experience additional barriers and discrimination, such as: lack of information and support from guidance counselors; lack of sufficient role models; unequal clinical opportunities and requirements; isolation; poor instruction on the appropriate use of touch; and a lack of teaching strategies appropriate to male learning needs.3-10 And student nurses from minority groups encounter unique obstacles as well. They must often contend with classroom biases, hostile interpersonal climates, and feelings of social isolation.11-13 To recruit and retain more men in the nursing profession, we must investigate these barriers and work on strategies to minimize stress for this important group of future nurses.
Why Men Do Not Pursue Nursing
Higher Perceived Expectations. Any nursing student may struggle to live up to others’ expectations, whether those expectations come from a relative or a professor. But being a male student comes with the additional challenge of facing society’s expectations. Because nursing is predominantly female, males must work harder just to prove that they can be as competent as their female counterparts.
Outnumbered. Male student nurses tend to be very “visible” to their classmates and faculty. As a result, they face extra scrutiny in and outside of the classroom. Sitting silent in the back of a classroom is often not an option when you are the only male in your class. Even still, professors may neglect to tailor their curriculum to address concerns unique to male nurses.
Treated Differently. Male student nurses are expected to be physically stronger than their female peers and are often asked to assist with lifting heavy patients. They are more likely to be mistaken for a doctor or medical student in a clinical setting. And they do not always have the same opportunities as women in this field. They may miss out on scholarships created specifically for female students in a predominantly-female school or they may encounter female patients who are uncomfortable having a male nurse, particularly in obstetrics/gynecology.
Ridiculed for Being a Male. One of the primary reasons more men do not pursue a career in nursing is because of the assumption that becoming a male nurse will trigger ridicule from others. For many, nursing is not viewed as a respectable profession for men. Many male nursing students will experience anxiety and stress when dealing with a patient and their family—and sometimes even their own family—because of this stigma.
Breaking the Barriers
Male students make a very conscious decision to become a nurse, and no one should be criticized for wanting to help others. To conquer gender and racial biases in the nursing profession, nursing faculty, students, and other healthcare professionals are encouraged to take the following steps:
Nursing school faculty and nurses who are given the opportunity to precept male student nurses should make efforts to provide them with the same opportunities given to other student nurses in the program.
Female student nurses should treat male student nurses with the same respect, especially in the clinical setting.
Other healthcare professionals should make efforts to respect the decision male students make to become nurses. They should acknowledge their contributions to nursing and healthcare and encourage them to grow professionally.
Friends and families of male student nurses should avoid being judgmental and ridiculing the decision made by these men to become nurses. Instead, friends and families should support their decision and provide all the necessary assistance and encouragement possible to help these men grow personally and professionally.
A patient and his/her family should make efforts to recognize and address male student nurses by their proper title, to treat them with the same respect and dignity given to other professionals, and to provide them with the same opportunities to learn and develop professionally.
Nursing school faculty, male student nurses, and male nurses should make efforts to educate the public about the invaluable contributions made by men in the nursing profession by appearing and presenting at public events such as college and career days, health fairs, and/or talk shows.
It is time for an intervention study with nursing education. Just as female medical students had to break the gender barriers in medicine, male nursing students want to break the gender barriers in nursing. n
T.W. Barkley and P.A. Kohler, “Is nursing’s image a deterrent to recruiting men into the profession? Male high school students respond,” Nursing Forum, 27 (1992), 9-13.
N.R. Kelly, M. Shoemaker, and T. Steele, “The experience of being a male nurse,” Journal of Nursing Education, 35 (1996), 170-174.
T. Kippenbrock, “School of nursing variables related to male student college choice,” Journal of Nursing Education, 29 (1990), 118-121.
G.D. Okrainec, “Perceptions of nursing education held by male nursing students,” Western Journal of Nursing Research, 16 (1994), 94-107.
B.L. Paterson, S. Tschikota, M. Crawford, M. Saydak, P. Venkatesh, and T. Aronowitz, “Learning to care: Gender issues for male nursing students,” Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, 28 (1996), 25-39.
M.J. Villeneuve, “Recruiting and retaining men in nursing: A review of the literature,” Journal of Professional Nursing, 10 (1994), 217-228.
B.B. Gunnings, “Stress and the minority student on a predominately White campus,” Journal of Non-White Concerns, 11 (1982), 11-16.
L.N. June, B.P. Curry, and C.L. Gear, “An-11-year analysis of Black students’ experience of problems and use of services: Implications for counseling professionals,” Journal of Counseling Psychology, 37 (1990), 178-184.
G. Walker-Burt, “Relationship between person-environment fit, psychological strain and coping behaviors among student nurses,” Dissertation Abstracts International, 39 (1979), 6041.