4 Nurse Stereotypes That Are In Fact True (And 4 That Aren’t)
There are plenty of stereotypes about nurses, but which ones are true? There are a few predominantly positive stereotypes that really have a grain of truth to them. Here are some of them.
Male nurses have it easier.
This one might be slightly true. US Census data indicates that in nursing occupations, men tend to make more than women. There are many reasons for this, including differences in men’s and women’s willingness to negotiate salaries, women’s higher likelihood of taking time off from work to raise children, and other factors. But in terms of salaries alone, male nurses do “have it easier” to some extent.
Psych nursing is a pretty cushy job.
This one is true in some ways, but not in others. Psychiatric nurses work just as hard as any other nurse, but their jobs are somewhat different. The hours are often less demanding than those for other types of nurses, such as medical-surgical nurses. There’s also much less risk of exposure to pathogens, and less daily exposure to death and severe illness.
But psych nursing can also be quite challenging, and many of the patients are difficult to work with. Working with severely distraught people with mood disorders can be emotionally taxing, and psych nurses must develop skills they don’t teach in nursing school. Things like picking up on whether someone is truly suicidal, or is being manipulative and malingering, aren’t something that can be taught in a classroom.
Psych nurses may not have to triage an endless stream of patients with stuffy noses and contagious colds, or tend to patients who are at death’s door, but their job is just as valid as any other.
Nurses are sticklers about privacy.
In healthcare, privacy and confidentiality are a serious business. Nurses play an important role in helping to protect patients’ privacy, as mandated by HIPAA. Privacy breaches could be a career killer. The American Nurses’ Association provides privacy recommendations about the patient’s’ rights to confidentiality regarding individually identifiable health information. This includes not only health records, but also things like imaging, genetic information, mental health therapy notes, and clinical research records. New technological developments, from electronic health records to social media, have created new challenges for patient privacy.
Nurses are caring, compassionate people.
Nursing isn’t a profession you go into if you don’t care about helping people. One of the oldest stereotypes about nursing is the portrayal of a nurse as an angelic figure, selflessly ministering to the poor and sick. This stereotype extends back to historical Catholic saints like Saint Agatha of Sicily, but was also popularized in the late 19th century by figures like Florence Nightingale. At that time, the “angelic nurse” stereotype was a welcome antithesis to the unpleasant stereotypes about Victorian nurses that were prevalent before the profession was standardized and reformed. Such negative stereotypes are embodied in the character of Sarah Gamp, a drunk and incompetent nurse character from Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit.
Which Nursing Stereotypes are BS?
We’ve covered some stereotypes about nurses that have a grain of truth to them, but what about the ones that don’t? There are probably more false stereotypes about nurses than true ones. Here are a few of the most common.
Only Second-Rate Nurses Work in Long-Term Care
There’s a definitely a problem with understaffing, poor qualifications, and even abuse in many nursing homes and assisted living facilities. However, it’s not fair to generalize all long-term care nurses. Many of them are incredibly passionate, dedicated, and skilled.
Night Shift Nurses are Lazy
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because the civilized world is sleeping, it doesn’t mean that illness and injury also take a break. Working the night shift takes a serious toll on your own sleep-wake cycle, and it can be much more draining than working during the day.
Male Nurses are Effiminate
Again, this isn’t true at all. It is true that for a very long time, before there was really true gender equality and equal opportunities for women, nursing was one of the few white-collar occupations available for women. For this reason, it’s often thought of as a “feminine” occupation. In reality, nursing is pretty gender neutral, and male nurses aren’t any different from men in other professions.
Nurses eat their young.
When nurses are gossipy or unfriendly to new hires, or there’s too much office politics going on, it’s a sign of a dysfunctional workplace culture. It’s not a uniform characteristic of nursing in general. As nursing is still widely conceptualized as a “feminine” occupation, it could be surmised that these stereotypes of vicious, gossipy nurses engaging in relational aggression ultimately stem from stereotypes of women being hostile toward other women.
Nursing Stereotypes Can Be Positive or Negative
There are both positive and negative stereotypes surrounding the nursing profession. The problem with stereotypes of both varieties is that they encourage people to make broad generalizations about all nurses. There are all kinds of people in our profession — young and old, male and female. It’s simply not correct to make broad assumptions about such a diverse group of professionals.
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