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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