In today’s career boards, nursing is still greatly occupied by female professionals, the result of a century’s worth of this field being cemented as a “feminine” career option. This strong social expectation presents challenges to the minority of male nurses who are faced with strong stereotyping and consequent specialization orientation. These factors create gaps in the understanding of the male nurse vs female nurse both from patients and hospital teams that has piqued several studies’ interest.
Historically however, professional nursing was mostly undertaken by men, firstly through mendicant religious orders accompanying the crusades, and later on with medical teams in wars, were taking teams composed by women was unthinkable at the time. The shift towards a female dominated nursing came at the turn of the 19th century through the work of Florence Nightingale, who maintained the idea, consistent with Victorian family values of the era, that women were naturally caring and nurturing, and therefore intrinsically fit for the nursing profession, not even needing education before apprenticeship with medical teams. The nursing associations formed at this time were all female, and the American nursing Association excludes male members up until the 1930’s.
This is the mindset which still prevails today, nursing as female dominated profession. In our society, the values mostly associated with this career, nurturing, intimate care and dependency relationships are still closely associated with female gender stereotypes, while men are seen to fit in more aggressive, dominant roles, hard to reconcile with this sort of medical assistance. However, the increasing flexibility brought by an increasing comfort with personal choices not encumbered by social gender molds has made it possible for many men to consider this career, greatly aided by the increasing reputation of nursing, and the higher pay offered for a job in great demand.
Even with this increase, the number of males in the nursing profession is still within a small percentage, and men are still very much faced with a certain level of stereotyping and discomfort from different sectors. Studies show that overall, they are well received by their female peers, who welcome their different skills. When it comes to society at large however, the pressure of stereotypes that frequently try to tag male nurses with homosexuality to make sense of their “feminine” jobs can be felt harshly.
Patients however, being on the receiving end of nurse care, have their own particular reactions to the introduction of males to this career, often expressing reluctance in seeing intimate care provided by men. In many hospitals, male nurses are barred from tasking within ob-gyn wards, with the argument their presence would increase discomfort for patients, and receiving the counter argument that this unfairly implies a lesser level of professionalism from male nurses when compared to male doctors, who are a common staple in these care specializations.
This adjustment effort has mostly lead to a more accentuated specialization within male nurses. To a great extent, male dominated medical teams steer their own gender’s nurses toward types of care that are easier to reconcile with the traditional gender role. Task oriented specializations like the ER, psychiatric wards and anesthesiology don’t imply the level of intimate care that seems to be the core cause of discomfort from patients and the medical organization.