by Michael L. Williams, RN, MSN, CCRN Minority Nurse Writer
Nursing is still not a profession that embraces its members equally, without regard to gender. Within and outside of our profession, nursing is still seen as “woman’s work” that is neither appropriate nor desirable for men.
The unwillingness of nursing to consistently embrace men as equal colleagues is not a good thing. It’s not good for our profession at a time of global shortage. It’s not good for our society because it limits the career choices of potential bright and compassionate caregivers. Worst of all, it erodes the integrity and ethics that are the hallmarks of our profession.
I am convinced that bringing male and female perspectives equally to the point of care will enrich our profession and benefit our patients. So how can we overcome these challenges? Certainly, not alone. Everybody has a contribution to make. Men in nursing need the encouragement and understanding of not only their colleagues but also others who can influence changes in traditional thinking. I offer these suggestions:
To all nurses: Speak with young people, with persons facing mid-career transitions and to community organizations about nursing careers. Socialize them to think of nursing as a career for women and men alike.
To men who are nurses: Make mentoring an essential ingredient of your professional work. Are you an experienced nurse? Include men among your mentees. Are you a novice or student? Seek men among your mentors. Consider participating in career days sponsored by schools and community groups. Overcome the invisibility of men in nursing by making yourself visible.
To women who are nurses: Work with male nursing colleagues to model effective communication across genders. Give them directions, even when they may forget to ask for them. Don’t relegate them to certain tasks because you think they’re stronger. And don’t assume that attracting more men into nursing will result in increased nursing salaries. It’s the quality of the work that matters, not the nurse’s gender.
To parents and guidance counselors: When a boy who is intelligent, adept in science, compassionate and caring is considering a health-related career, be sure he seriously considers nursing as a possibility.
To organizations developing solutions to the nursing shortage: Include men in your promotional materials and develop recruitment initiatives aimed specifically at men of all ages.
To outplacement consultants: Highlight nursing as a profession for both men and women.
To deans of nursing: Strive for greater gender diversity among the faculty. Highlight nursing faculty who are men. Encourage them to mentor male students.
To nursing managers: Stop assuming that men are promoted only because they are men. Instead, assume that these men are experts and caring clinicians. When male nurses are promoted, encourage them instead of questioning their qualifications and anticipating their mistakes. Coach them and mold them to be great leaders.
To philanthropists: Support scholarship programs that recognize men as underrepresented in nursing.
And to patients and their families: When you encounter a health professional whose role is unknown, regardless of his or her gender, ask: “Are you a nurse?”