Are TV’s male nurse stereotypes seeping into real life?



It seems as though everywhere we look this week, another medical website or blog is weighing in on male nurses and the stereotypes that plague their portrayal on television.

This is likely due to a recent story and study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing called “Men in nursing on television: exposing and reinforcing stereotypes” that examines the issue. Let’s look in!

“If you’ve ever seen the movie Meet the Parents, with Ben Stiller, than you probably remember the scene where he was introduced to his fiancé’s family of doctors and surgeons, only to be laughed at when he told them he was a nurse,” wrote “Decades of believing nurses can only be females has led many men to believe that the job isn’t suitable for them. But although male nursing has tripled since 1970, stereotyping on TV continues to emasculate their role in the medical field, making it difficult for healthcare facilities to find and keep them, a study found.”

So what, exactly, has the leap been for male nurses in the last 40 years? In 1970, they made up just 2.7 percent of the nursing population, compared to about 9.6 percent in 2011, when the latest census was taken. These rates are similar in Australia and the U.K., the JAN researchers noted. While that’s certainly a significant hike, researchers still worried that the numbers remain low.

“People don’t make decisions about which profession to choose just based on television, but students have told us that popular TV shows can help them choose a career, or that TV perpetuates negative stereotypes about nursing that they then have to address in practice,” Dr. Roslyn Weaver, of the University of Western Sydney School of Nursing and Midwifery, and lead author of the study, told Reuters.

In the study, researchers analyzed one season’s worth of five health-related TV shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Hawthorne, Mercy, Nurse Jackie and Private Practice. While watching, they analyzed how male nurses were depicted in terms of dialogue, costume, casting, cinematography and editing.

Their findings? Male nurses are portrayed as less masculine on TV across the board. The researchers found several instances in which male nurses were mistaken for doctors, stereotypically cast as gay, or generally treated poorly. Many male nurses were the target of frequent jokes on the shows.

“Apart from ‘Nurse Jackie,’ the medical programs used in the analysis reflected programs aimed at a medically focused perspective of health where nursing is seen lower in relative status and where male nurses are seen as lower still,” Dr. David Stanley, an associate professor who did his own exploration into male nurses in film, told Reuters.

As happens with much of media these days, the TV stereotypes are harmful in that they often translate into real-life perspectives. Researchers worried that male nurses may be disadvantaged when it comes to clinical specialties and that they could be pressured to do more “masculine,” heavy labor type of work.

“So when men in nursing are almost invisible in popular culture or are stereotyped as incompetent or somehow ‘unmasculine,’ then men who choose to enter nursing can find it difficult to combat this,” Dr. Weaver told Reuters. “Perhaps reflecting this, there are often higher attrition rates for male students than female students in nursing.”

The good news researchers uncovered for male nurses? Men tend to have the highest paying positions in nursing, and as a whole made more than women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Which brings up a different host of issues…

We want to know: What’s your experience with male nurses, stereotypes versus reality and how your coworkers handle it?

Sources: MedicalDaily.comReuters

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5 Responses to Are TV’s male nurse stereotypes seeping into real life?

  1. mreed1123

    I personally don’t feel strange when I’ve had a male nurse. I find them to be a lot more friendly than the female nurses. Although, it’s really rare that you see a male nurse.

  2. BeardedNurse

    I am 6ft, 285lbs, bald & bearded. For close to 30 years, I was a labor & delivery nurse (through the 80s’, there were many articles and TV exposure about me, cause’ being a guy nurse in OB at that time was a news item). In fact at a University Medical Center, I was awarded, “Outstanding Nurse in OB/Gyn Nursing.” I have also been an Nursing Instructor and an Assistant Nursing Professor. And presently a Supervisor in a long term care facility. Researchers worried that male nurses may be disadvantaged when it comes to clinical specialties and that they could be pressured to do more “masculine,” heavy labor type of work. I really don’t see that nurses who are men are at a disadvantaged when it comes to clinical specialities. Heck, is caring for a laboring woman, more “masculine.” I will say, women in labor are very strong. And what do they define as heavy type of work. Most guys I know, are working in ICUs, NICUs, ER, and ORs, why you may ask? A friend of mine did his doctorial thesis on why men chose these roles in nursing. If I remember this correctly, men are attracted to action, fast pace work, and where no one cares if you are a male or female, just provide the care quickly and correctly.
    TV is entertainment, do doctors, fire fighters, or cops feel they are disadvantaged because of how they are filmed, no! Because it is just a story!
    Have any of the female nurses ever noticed how many guys that are nurses have some kind of facial hair?

  3. Chuck Whitted

    Dr. Weaver told Reuters. “Perhaps reflecting this, there are often higher attrition rates for male students than female students in nursing.”
    My nursing school started with 8 men and graduated 2 from that class. The men were targeted by the older female instructors from day one. Even the two who graduated were threatened to be tossed out even though they had high averages because certain older female instructors just didn’t “like the way they breathed.” And this was a public school. Had female engineering students been targeted and treated this way, there would have been a federal Department of Education investigation and lots of publicity. But it was just men, so nobody cared.

  4. mursingstudent

    Honestly, many of the depictions showing only effeminate gay men as male nurses does feed into many perceived stereotypes of male nurses. Many people think that men that go into nursing are losers because they cannot get a traditional male oriented job and stuff like depicting all male nurses as gay or mocked in movies like Meet the Fockers only enforces these stereotypes. Much like any stereotypes there is some truth to many male nurses being both gay and effeminate. From my personal experience I have neither meet many effeminate male nurses nor ones which identify as openly gay.
    From what I have read since alot of people view male nurses as being effeminate or gay many tend to assert their masculinity more in traditionally masculine activities.

  5. Ole walrus

    I taught anatomy and advanced bio for many years until teaching wasn’t fun anymore, so I left and went to nursing school. Major discovery…1…there weren’t many male classmates. Major discovery …2 ….I got used a lot for strength jobs during clinicals. Anyway, made it…..first to take boards, first to pass boards…..and then when looking for job, discovery ..3…there’s lots of jobs for male nurses….you can as you gain experience pick and choose….and yes, I do have facial hair also… I am one of the 9.6% and proud of it!!