Whether you are a male or a female, being a nurse is an honorable career. Nurses are the rocks who help people in their greatest times of need. They are sources of care, help, comfort, and compassion for patients who are scared, sick, and, sometimes, even rude or angry. Unfortunately, sometimes male nurses have extra obstacles and challenges to overcome.
So, what are the hardest parts of being a male nurse? Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges you’ll have to overcome as a male in the nursing industry. This information comes accompanied by stories from real male nurses who found themselves facing extra challenges because of their gender.
The Assumption of Homosexuality
It is an obvious and well-known fact that a large portion of the nurses in the field are female. Even most media referencing medical content tends to represent the nursing field with female icons; the ones that do mention male nurses tend to show them in a certain light. Somehow, it has become a common assumption that men who work in the field are gay or, at the very least, very effeminate straight men with questionable sexuality. For a single, straight male nurse, this is a troubling stereotype to deal with.
This is an issue that frustrates most male nurses you will meet. While there of course are gay men who are nurses, there are also straight men who are nurses. There are effeminate men who are nurses, and there are burly, weight lifting, tattooed woman-loving nurses as well. Our culture has really taken this stereotype to heart. .
As a country that values differences, we should really be doing more to be supportive and welcoming to men in this field, as they come with their own innately valuable strengths and insights. Nurse Jake Luis talks about this in his recent article on Scrubs.
The Assumption of Strength
Another daily battle that is no doubt one of the hardest parts of being a male nurse is the assumption that, because we are male we are stronger than our female co-workers. Even though this is often a true assumption, it isn’t true 100 percent of the time. It is, however, demeaning 100 percent of the time. Moreover, male nurses often find themselves forced to handle heavy lifting because of the assumed strength.
As a male nurse, you will find yourself pushing a gurney, lifting heavy boxes, or having to do a lot of heavy lifting simply because you are a man. While this can be a regular part of the job, it is not uncommon for female nurses to push these “heavy lifting/manual labor” type tasks off on the male nurses they work with. Truthfully, there are a lot of men who don’t mind helping the ladies when it comes to this type of task, but the consensus is that we are more bothered by constantly being utilized as a laborer rather than a nurse – which is understandable.
During a recent interview, Mark Reuben, BSN, RN, said, “My first job in the nursing field was as a night nurse in the ER. There were nights that were super busy and there were nights that you could hear crickets chirp. It always seemed to me that my supervisors (female) liked to assign me all of the tasks that required physical labor. Instead of sending two female nurses to go move a patient with a lifting aid machine – they would send me and a female nurse to do it manually – which of course meant I was taking the brunt of the weight. I certainly don’t mind using my strength to help out – but I’m not a pack mule and I shouldn’t be risking injury to myself just because I’m the only male. It was quite frustrating.”
The Questioning of Professionalism
Another challenge that male nurses face every day is having their professionalism called into question by patients – especially female patients. The unfortunate truth is patients just expect their nurses to be female. So, when you – a male nurse – walks through the door, they often have less respect for you before they even give you a chance. This notion, while outlandish, is very common and often leads male nurses into a wider array of more serious on-the-job issues. We also have to be well groomed, we’re expected to use the best mens skin care on the marketing! An unsightly beard or dry skin can make us look like we’ve just worked a 14 hour shift.
For example, you will encounter patients who refuse your case simply because you are a man; especially in situations where some level of bodily contact or nudity are involved. Men in this profession are often the victims of false accusations and have their motives, bedside manner, and professionalism called into question. These types of situations are unfortunate and can cause people to lose their jobs and suffer from a damaged reputation.
Take into consideration James M Early an RN from Maine’s, story – he shared, “I remember being a young, new nurse at my local hospital in Bangor. One of my first patients on the job was an elderly woman who had come in complaining of vaginal discomfort. I performed the exam and determined she just had some light skin tearing due to dryness. I got the doctor to prescribe what she needed. I thought everything went well. She hadn’t said anything that led me to believe there was a problem – yet, she told my supervisor that I was unprofessional and that I had violated her. Thankfully there was another nurse in the room with me (female) who could validate my innocence – but had she not been there, my story may not have ended so well. I had done everything by the book – but that’s part of the downside to being a male nurse. If there’s no witness and someone says you did something, most people will believe it whether it’s true or not. It’s pretty intimidating always having to worry about something like that.”
As you can tell, the stories from real male nurses across the country really highlight the fact that they face additional struggles and challenges that people do not consider. Being a nurse is hard enough without having added burdens simply because of gender. Unfortunately, that is the way this industry works.
Nursing is not just a woman’s position. You are just as competent, compassionate, and professional as your female co-workers. You deserve the same treatment and respect as your female co-workers. You, like your female co-workers, went through a lot of schooling to get where you are today. You deserve to co-exist with female nurses.