- When I was a little girl, I thought all nurses were women. Women who wore white and stuck me with needles, to be exact. Obviously, I had several surgeries as a kid.
- When I joined the Navy, my instructors in Hospital Corpsman A School were two male Hospital Corpsmen and a female Nurse Corps officer named Lieutenant Bonney. (If you know her, I would love to get back in touch)
- At my first duty station, I finally met a male nurse. He was my charge nurse on 7A, medicine/oncology. He was a bit of an oddity, but not an original. There were several male nurses at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in 1990; however, the lion’s share were women. Very often, extremely young women – maybe new graduate nurses. I still considered nursing a female profession; not consciously, but when I thought of nurses they were always women.
- When I started nursing school, there were a few men in my class. I think I still considered nursing a female profession. It’s amazing how long I held on to that stereotype. When I worked PICU during nursing school, there were three or four male nurses, and they were great! However….. stereotypes die hard.
- And happily, I now consider nursing a profession……. which easily crosses gender lines. It is exactly like being an accountant, but with more stool and (slightly) fewer meetings. But it took a long time. 🙂
The stereotypes for men in nursing are pretty amazing, since the first nurses were actually men. Women came on the scene much later. As a matter of fact, the word ‘nosocomial’ (hospital acquired) comes from the ‘nosocomi’, who were the men who provided nursing care in ancient Rome. The very first nursing school was in India, and only men were considered pure enough to be nurses (Bruce Wilson, Ph.D., RN,). Male religious orders founded hospitals and cared for the sick, such as the Alexian Brothers, and the Benedictines. Juan Ciudad, founded what would become known as the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God.
Friar Juan de Mena was the first Nurse in America. He was a Mexican nurse and a lay brother of the Order of Santo Domingo, shipwrecked decades before America was settled at Plymouth Rock.
And then the Crimean War happened, and there was Flo. However, she notes that the male ‘orderlies’ provided nursing care.
The Army Nurse Corps in the US was formed in 1901, and men were excluded from serving until 1955.
Some nursing programs specifically excluded males as recently as 1982.
And here we are. The profession is still only about 10% men, but I see this changing rapidly. Indeed, since 1970 the number of men in nursing has tripled.
So how do men fit in nursing? Perfectly in my mind, but some patients have been slow to change their minds. I find this disturbing. It is as if some patients consider a male nurse’s contact with their body ‘wrong’. This might indicate some feeling of sexual inappropriateness with a male providing their care as opposed to a female, and it makes absolutely no sense to me. I remember a guy in my nursing school class who was crushed because no laboring mothers would allow him to participate in their births based on his gender. If he had been a Medical Student, not a word would have been said. He went on to become a fabulous NICU nurse.
Of course, I am sure the reason for refusal of a male caregiver is not always a feeling of sexual inappropriateness. Some women just do not feel comfortable with any male ‘seeing’ the more intimate parts of their body. It is simply outside of their comfort zone. These women often see a female physician for the same reason. I have never seen a male patient refuse a female nurse, or insist on a male physician; but I understand it happens occasionally. I have been asked by many male coworkers to place a foley catheter in a female patient, because they care so much about how the female patient will feel about a male performing the procedure. Male nurses are probably way more sensitive to their patient’s needs in this regard than female nurses, if I am honest. I have never asked a patient if they would prefer that a male nurse place a urinary catheter. That may be a failing on my part, but it is more likely related to the fact that no one has ever asked me to get a nurse of the opposite sex.
I try to respect my patient’s wishes, but it seems that the stigma lives on. What will it take for the general public to see male nurses as equally caring and competent professionals who have no designs on their person? We are not interested in your body beyond your medical problems. We have no desire to see you naked, except for what needs to come off to conduct a proper assessment. As a matter of fact, female nurses can be a little too nonchalant about modesty at times, because we simply do not even notice that you are exposed. It doesn’t register, because it is a normal part of the job. It is also a normal part of the job to respect your modesty, so we do our best not to forget.
This crazy website indicates in extremely straight language that women should never allow a male provider to do an ‘intimate’ exam, because they could be sexually assaulted. It is mind boggling.
Until these stigmas go away, we will simply have to make our patients comfortable, and abide by their wishes. However, I encourage you to share this blog with others to raise awareness that nurses of both genders are equally competent and sensitive to the needs of their patients.
Thanks to all of my male colleagues for everything you do.
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