Dealing with gender stereotypes in nursing

Phil Boorman | Cultura Collection | Getty Images

image: Phil Boorman/Cultura Collection/Getty Images

Yes. It can and does happen. Contrary to popular belief and myth, there really are male nurses out there!

And yes, we do encounter discrimination every so often – some greater than others, and some more severe.

I can remember when I first made the decision to be a nurse…

“You want to be a Murse?”
“I guess you didn’t want to be a doctor?”
“Are you gay?”

I have seen and heard it all from all walks of life. You would be surprised at some of the reaction and interaction I have experienced being a ‘male’ nurse.

Even after I made it through nursing school and started working, the stereotyping continued in some small way. This time it was from my co-workers…

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. Now we have some muscle on the floor.”
“You’re so great to work with, lifting my patients is so much easier when you’re around.”
“The doctors like you better – it’s a guy thing.”

So my gender as a nurse has been a blessing and a curse. And there really is no rhyme or reason, no prediction, and no preparation. Some patients/families out there simply do not like nor want a male nurse, while some prefer them. Same goes for the doctors, some will unconsciously treat me ‘better’ or ‘differently’, while others will make my life difficult. Is it simply because I’m a guy? And some co-workers will also unconsciously ‘like’ me simply because I have muscles. God-forbid I bring skill and knowledge to the table?!

All of these ‘challenges’ still are manageable. All of these so-called difficulties can be ‘worked around’ in most cases. Even at its most severe, I’ve only had to change patient assignments due to a patient/family/physician nursing gender preference. But, I’ve never had to worry about not practicing as a nurse.

I have balked at some things I’ve experienced. I’ve moaned and groaned at past interactions. But mostly I just let it roll off my shoulders and simply move on – because in all instances I still get to practice as a nurse in this wonderful field of nursing. I still get to do the job I love in the setting I prefer and love.

Others are not so lucky.

It seems in India – for a particular diploma nursing program – they will not accept male candidates for their program!? In fact this discrimination was petitioned – and lost! It seems that males are being prohibited to enter because the diploma program’s course work involves mid-wifery as well as pre and post-natal care?!

(insert facial expression of shock and disbelief??!!)

To make matters worse, the higher court ruled that there is a sufficient number of male nurses already working in the areas they are needed – like jail, ortho department, mental health hospitals and operation theatres??!!


As a nurse, male or female, we are taught to be culturally diverse – including transcultural nursing. We are encouraged and trained to be culturally competent practitioners, but this – in my humble opinion – is astonishing.

How can you judge or even pre-judge, and ‘genderize’ the practices of a profession that works side by side with the field of medicine?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but do they discriminate female candidates who have an interest in being an orthopedic physician? Or a male candidate wanting to pursue obstetrics?

Original story from ‘The Times of India’ here.

As well as the original commentary from ‘The Truth About Nursing’ here.

Things that make you go hmm.

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18 Responses to Dealing with gender stereotypes in nursing

  1. Matt

    We still have ‘genderize’d aspects of nursing here in the States, too.

    Could a nurse get a job in a L&D unit if they’re male?

    Imagine the look on a school board’s face if a male applied for a School Nurse position. There would be parents signing petitions to ‘protect their teenage daughters’.

  2. Sean Dent

    @ Matt great point.I remember having a slight interest in L&D in nursing school – it would have been interesting.

  3. Gil Stevenson, RN

    I had a small interest myself in L & D. Then I remembered how unpleasant some women become in labor (I have six kids and was in the room for each of their births) I came rapidly to the conclusion that I didn’t want to do that every working day of my life.

  4. Sean Dent

    @ Gil It is quite a different world. It would take a large adjustment, but others have done it!

  5. Valentine

    @Matt, hi! Yes, I guess one could get a job on an LD floor, but forget about having patients – not only will you run into the difficulty of getting an assignment, but also the patients themselves will treat you like you just dont belong in there… At least that was my experience, which put an end to my interest in that venue of nursing… Yeah…. Sad.

  6. C. Emmett

    I am a male nurse. I work currently in a Residentail Treatment Center for adolescents. Prior to that, I spent the last four years working on a postpartum/level 2 NICU. So, yes- it is possible to get hired on those types of floors as a male.

    I attended deliveries both vaginal and c-section on my shifts, and had a wonderful time being that close to new life. It was cool to be the “baby” nurse, and I didn’t run into opposition. I have seen hundreds of deliveries in that role….it was awesome! I personally, didnt have a problem getting hired or anything. I only had two patients in 4 years ask for a female nurse, and both of them were just uncomfortable having a male help them learn to breastfeed their infants.

    I know its sounds odd, but it can be done. A male can work L&D, nursery, or even postpartum. I was offered a chace to be a labor nurse, but decided against it. But its possible.

    I say if you have a passion and interest in that area of nursing, go for it! It was a very valuable experience, and when I am done with my MSN, I am thinking of heading back and being an NNP. I just depends on where the road decides to take me.

  7. Sean Dent

    @ C. Emmett Thank you so much for sharing! That. Is. Awesome! You are the exception to my rule (at least my rule in my experience).
    You would have a wealth of knowledge to off your patients as an NNP.

  8. Gabriel

    Dude your my hero!

  9. Sean Dent

    @ Gabriel I’m glad you liked it.

  10. Tom

    Thank you for the article. Times are changing, but we still have far to go. Have youever heard a female nurse get asked what she does for a living? Do they ever answer, “I’m a female nurse”?

    Besides OB/GYN, pediatrics was a woman’s domain when I first got out of nursing school 20 years ago. I got a job as a ‘graduate nurse’ on a peds floor. About a dozen other new grads & I did not pass the State board exams the first time. They let me go. They said it was because I didn’t pass Boards, but the other 11 female grads all stayed on.
    Also, when it comes to the ‘muscles’ issue – I am always glad to help when a co-worker needs help, but they sometimes forget that the ‘nurse with muscles’ also has charting to do, meds to give, orders to take off, etc. I have had female co-workers with the attitutde that they should not have to help the other nurses lifting because “Tom’s on the floor today.” So, why isn’t our pay different because our job description differs from the female nurses?

    When I worked as a psych nurse, I was ALWAYS expected to assist whenever a patient needed seclusion or restraint, which could be several times a shift, but I was never givena lighter load to accomodate for it. Still, I’m glad to be a nurse

  11. Tom

    One more thing – the group with the biggest problem accepting male nurses is the elderly. Some just can’t believe that a man can be a nurse. Amusingly, there have been times I entered a patient’s room with a female doctor and we have to just let the patient believe that she’s the nurse & I’m the doctor because they just can’t believe it.

  12. Sean Dent

    @ Tom Wow! Thanks for sharing your insight. You are correct, we still have a long way to go.

  13. Ven

    As a male nurse I still encounter this kind of stereo-types and comments,so the best thing I do I always answer politely such as “I do have a brain ,and skills and I am not a lifter for your patients its a team effort” . and I try my best to work my female co-nurses.

  14. Sean Dent

    @ Ven Thanks for your input. I agree.

  15. Chapman

    You note that these difficulties can be “worked around”. Why do we feel it is ok to have to work around bias? By allowing ourselves to be forced to work around are we not enabling the bias? The same female nurse who in offended by a male in postpartum has no problem working with a fresh TURP post-op. Do we object to the double standard? If not how can we expect things to change?

    I am not suggesting direct confrontation but there are managerial remedies. All large organizations have policies against gender bias. Learn them and if needs be, use them.

  16. Sean Dent

    @ Chapman Great comment. Thanks for the info.

  17. Tekichi

    Try to check the Nursing landscape in the Philippines.

    There are a lot of men in nursing… Seriously.

  18. Sean Dent

    @ Tekichi Thanks for the info!