We don’t just need more male nurses. We need more nurses, period. Last year, the Journal of Advanced Practice Nursing conducted a survey among 53,000 Registered Nurses in Illinois. One-third of the nurses over the age of 55 intended to retire within the next five years. The mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce will hit specialities particularly hard where there are fewer nurses and the training requires more time. We haven’t even reached that point and already, units are short-staffed and overworked. Listen, fellas- it’s us. We’re the problem. Gone are the days of relying on women to fill our nurses’ stations. Women are contributing in every imaginable sector of the workforce. It no longer serves us as a society to hold on to antiquated ideas of a man’s work or a woman’s work. Keep your stethoscope in a toolbelt if it makes you feel better, but we need nurses and men aren’t pulling our weight in terms of numbers. I know that men (and perhaps people in general), want to feel valued and appreciated. Trust me, male nurses are a hot commodity. Here are five reasons that I’m glad that I decided to man up and be a nurse.
I’ll say this now and hopefully by the end of the article, I’ll be back in everyone’s good graces. Gender diversity in a work environment helps balance the energy. I hope I don’t step on any toes, but allow me to shield myself with this defense: I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own. Women have told me that my presence is a welcomed balance in a unit full of women. I won’t pretend to understand the politics among my female counterparts; actually I can say that I am usually oblivious. As a neutral party (and often the class clown), I try keep everybody in a good mood. Some women are more accepting of a message when it comes from a man because there is no perceived jealousy or attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I know that plenty of men pull out the claws and get into some pretty nasty catfights. I, however, cannot relate. From what I hear from women, men who have no interest in office gossip and petty bickering are a welcomed addition to the team. I have a sneaking suspicion that part of my “charm” is my ability to handle heavy lifting but I’ll chose to believe that I’m appreciated for my mind and not my body.
In nursing, you’ll find some of the most mentally strong women that you may ever encounter. Many of them are physically strong too, but (most) women just aren’t biologically designed to have the same physical strength as the average man. And often, women wouldn’t need a man to protect them if other men would leave them alone. Unfortunately, in certain environments it’s quite likely that women will come in contact with men who are disrespectful, violent, and/ or inappropriate. I’m a southern gentleman, raised in a home where my father taught me to protect my mother and my sister. I’m also an ex-football player. It doesn’t make sense to me to stand by as any woman, much less a fellow nurse, is threatened by a man. Sometimes when a male nurse comes into the room to assist with an unruly patient, the patient immediately simmers down. We get the verbal lashings too, but there are plenty of uncontrollable patients who physically threaten women, but regain their composure when an ex-offensive lineman in scrubs enters the room. I’ve also come across patients who were sexually inappropriate towards the women, but not men. I walk in and suddenly they’re no longer interested in exposing themselves. In those situations, it’s only right that I step in. Again, it’s not that women need anyone to save them but they don’t come to work to be sexually harassed. As a man, I’m not sexually harassed at work and my female counterparts should not be subjected to that as a part of the job.
You’ll come across articles that tell you what a male nurse is and what a male nurse isn’t. True diversity is accomplished as more labels are shed. Male nurses are not a monolith. We are seeing more and more men enter nursing from all walks of life. I’m a man who likes sports and cars. I enjoy going to get pedicures with my wife. I’m the go-to guy when a heavy patient needs to be moved or subdued. I’ve prayed with my patients. I’m a dad who flinches when my son gets his shots. “Male nurse” should not come with any preconceived notions beyond being a man and a nurse. It’s ridiculous that with all of our advancements as a society, we’re still working to diversify a field as necessary (and as understaffed) as nursing. I figure the best way to promote diversity is to be the diversity. We need to foster an environment where men who would make great nurses feel welcomed, rather than turning away from the field because they don’t fit a particular image of what a male nurse should be.
Some of the most notoriously underpaid but undoubtedly necessary jobs are in predominantly female fields such as teaching and nursing. I want to see women paid fairly based on skill and education. Not only because my sister is a nurse and I want the best for her; but because it’s the right thing to do and makes sense. I also think nurses deserve to be paid more. If society cares about paying men, in theory, men entering into women-dominated professions should bring higher wages to those fields. In the fight for gender equality, it’s not enough just to believe in it. It’s important that men act as allies to our female counterparts and put action behind our words and feelings. I’m doing my part from within “the system”.
The final reason on my list is one that isn’t as common, but it happens. You’ve probably seen the images on tv of a man in a hospital romanticizing the idea of a gentle spongebath being administered by some young, pretty nurse. It doesn’t always work that way. I have had male patients who are uncomfortable with having a female nurse. It’s usually when they’re embarrassed about why they’re in the hospital. I’ve seen interesting items lodged in unlikely places. Some men aren’t comfortable with a woman other than their wives seeing their bodies. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to be there when a male patient specifically requests a male nurse. Rarely does anyone request a male nurse, so it’s nice to requested.
If you ask a group of male nurses what makes them feel most appreciated at work, you would likely see a little overlap but lots of variation as well. We all have different things to offer. We just need good nurses. Answer the call, brethren.