I'm frequently asked to reflect on issues specific to men in nursing, and I'm always puzzled by this request because I don't go to work every day thinking about being a man who's a nurse; I think about being a nurse. When I entered nursing 20 years ago and introduced myself to patients as their nurse, I would occasionally get a strange look, a comment, or the most popular question: “Why didn't you just go to medical school?” Those of us who've been around for 20 or more years were certainly exposed to gender bias and questions about our sexuality, and told we couldn't work in certain areas of healthcare that weren't “appropriate for men.”
I recently polled a large group of male colleagues about issues for men in nursing and received many of the same responses, none of which had to do with gender. As nurses, educators, and leaders, we're all facing the same pressures, constraints, and challenges around reimbursement, workforce shortages, and healthcare reform as our female counterparts. The one thing on which we all agree is that we dislike the label “male nurse.” We don't refer to our colleagues by using gender labels such as “the female physician” or “the male pharmacist.” We are and always will be nurses.
Although reports vary on the number of men entering nursing, regardless of the number, more could be done to encourage young men to enter nursing as a profession. According to recent statistics published on www.minoritynurse.com, the current number of men in RN roles is 168,161, or 5.8% of the total RN population. All nurses should take the opportunity to coach and mentor a young man to consider nursing as a career and role model behavior to achieve this goal.
In addition, more must be to done to introduce nursing as a career in the elementary and middle school grades when young minds begin to consider and explore careers. I had the opportunity to speak with my daughter's first grade class about being a nurse, and for the first time I can recall, I was told it was “cool” and “awesome” that I was a dad and a nurse. I reminded the students that it's just as cool and awesome to be a mom and a nurse, but to be the coolest and the most awesome—just be a nurse!
Since the beginning of nursing history, men and women have worked side by side to develop our profession. This tradition must continue and will always be a foundational element to the future success of nursing. I encourage you to take a new graduate under your wing, mentor a young man in your community, and model the positive aspects of our chosen profession. The need for well-prepared, caring, compassionate nurses, male or female, continues to grow and we should all take an active role in making it happen.