You’re about to begin your first shift as an RN.
Your gut tells you that the moment you walk through those doors in uniform, people will judge you. Why? Because you’re a man.
In training, you may have been exposed to the modern stereotypes of the male nurse. According to Jerry R. Lucas, RN, and owner and publisher of Male Nurse Magazine (http://www.malenursemagazine.com/), “Either you are a homosexual or a med-school dropout. That’s the only reason you’d go into nursing, right? This is the male nurse stigmatism that’s been around for years and is still present in the nursing environment. You can’t just be a male with a desire to treat people in a stable occupational industry.”
Following are the unique situations male nurses face—and practical advice for handling the stereotypes.
When women were denied the opportunity to go to med school, nursing was an avenue for gaining power in a white male world that ran everything. Times have changed, but there are still seasoned nurses in the industry who feel male nurses are trying to enter the female nursing safe-place and take over. Some feel afraid to give up their place of power, and they view male nurses as a threat. This may seem unrealistic, but instances today would prove otherwise.
“Recently I received an e-mail from a gentleman attending a college for nursing,” says Lucas, “telling me that because he was paying for school, he wanted the same education as everyone else. However, one of his instructors set up a clinical site at a battered woman’s shelter. The policy of the shelter was that no males could enter. Even though this young man was supposed to go to the site and was paying for the project, they weren’t going to let him in.
“He approached the clinical instructor about the bias, and she said, ‘It’s because of people like you that my breast cancer came back.’ Nursing is a tough world for men. There are female nurses that just don’t want them there.”
The Homophobic Patient
Male nurses also have to deal with homophobic male patients. If a man is about to have surgery and his male nurse enters to prepare by shaving certain areas of his body, many homophobic patients throw a fit. Male nurses have to be prepared for this response.
The best solution is to reassure the patient that you are a professional providing health care. If he can’t acknowledge that and refuses your treatment, there isn’t much you can do.
Let the patient know that he/she will have to wait until a female nurse is available.
Female Patient Care vs. Dateline NBC
Also working against male nurses is the media’s portrayal of men as sexual predators. From Dateline NBC to deodorant commercials claiming men think about women every 30 seconds, the media targets men. That tends to distort even further popular perceptions of male nurses.
When parents bring their 16–year-old daughter to the hospital and find that a male nurse will administer a procedure, such as a catheterization, media-driven images flood their mind. Some panic.
Jerry Lucas offers this advice: “I sit down and explain how long I’ve been at this job. I try to relate to the parents. I may say, ‘I have four daughters of my own. I wish I could find you a female nurse, but everyone’s backed up. In order to make sure we’re doing the appropriate thing--getting your daughter cared for as quickly as possible--I need to do this procedure.’ I also welcome them to stay in the room.”
Though popular perceptions seem biased, as a male nurse, you will need to go through that extra step of explaining why you, a male nurse, are assisting the patient instead of a female nurse. You will need to ensure female patients that you are a professional. It takes more time, but it generally will ease their minds.
In the future, the ratio of male-to-female nursing professionals may improve, but for now, as male nurse, you are in the minority. And you are different than what is expected.
Rise to the occasion. Maintain your professionalism with patience and maturity.