With all of this talk about diversity, the global economy, and focus on a nondiscriminatory policy in the mass media, in the new millennium we would like to convince ourselves that we have shed many of the stereotypes that once defined our culture (Chung, 2011). It is true that in many professions we have raised or nearly destroyed the glass ceiling that once existed for women. Everyone knows what the glass ceiling is and knows that it only applies to women, right? This may be true in many professions, but in the field of nursing, one can argue that the glass ceiling exists for men and that male nurses struggle to break free of the stereotypes that limit the types and levels of work that they can do. It comes as no surprise to the casual observer that the nursing profession is dominated by women and that men are the minority. This research will explore the glass ceiling that exists for men in nursing and will explore some actions that need to be taken to level the playing field in this profession.
Evidence of the Male Glass Ceiling in Nursing
In the 1960s male nurses were not allowed to enter the delivery room. Male nursing students had to stand at the door to catch a glimpse of the delivery or to have a female patient in their care (Chung, 2011). Many people have the false perception that times have changed and that these stereotypes would have been all but eliminated by laws such as the EEOC and other policies that promote diversity in the workplace. It is true that hospitals and Health Care organizations would not dare intentionally disallow a male nurse to perform tasks-based entirely on his gender, no more than they would dare do the same to a female nurse. However, just because discrimination in the nursing profession is no longer blatant, does not mean that it does not exist.
Much of the focus of the equal opportunity movement has been on the limits of women in the workplace. However, one does not have to look far to find discrimination against men in the nursing profession. For instance, if you pick up any nursing textbook and pay attention to the voice in which it was written, many of them still cater to female nurses. In faculty discussions, listen to the number of times female pronouns are used to describe nurses as opposed to male pronouns. Unfortunately, many male nurses who want to work in obstetrics or in other areas of women's health, must still resort to legal tactics to gain entrance into this field (Chung, 2011).
Only about 5.4% of the 2.1 million registered nurses in the United States are men (Chung, 2011). This statistic alone is evidence enough that women are the majority and men are the minority and the nursing profession. The use of female pronouns to describe nurses, as well as the number of lawsuits filed to allow males to practice in women's health areas of nursing is evidence that not only are men the minority in nursing, stereotypes and discrimination still exist with regard to them. Patients of both genders report feeling uncomfortable when they learn that their nurse will be male instead of female (Chung, 2011). There is no reason for this other than cultural prejudice that favors female nurses. Even though, the mass media does not focus on gender issues among male nurses, as one can see, there is still sufficient evidence that a glass ceiling does exist for men in many areas of nursing.
Why does the gender gap exist?
The next question that needs to be asked is why this gender gap exists at all. First, in order to answer this question, we have to allow ourselves to step back in time. The subjugation of women has a longstanding history. If one goes back far enough, they will find that women were excluded from the educational processes. Gender lines have been historically more clearly defined then they are now. In many places or countries, women were strictly forbidden from practicing medicine. However, women have always been associated with being the healers of women and acted as midwives. During the middle ages, women were restricted to roles as to midwives and the healers of the lower classes. In the upper classes it became desirable to show ones wealth by achieving an education, and soon becoming a doctor was associated with membership in the upper class (Ehrenreich & English). Although it did not happen on a conscious level, women healers became associated with lower education and lower status in the healthcare profession.
This status of nursing care continued in the 17th century when nursing was provided by men and women as a criminal punishment. With many of the nurses representing miscreants of society, it was not difficult for doctors to raise their status even higher (Bynum, Hardy, & Jacyna, et al.1995). Florence Nightingale's work was pivotal in changing the status of the nursing profession, as well as the quality of care that they delivered. Florence Nightingale was a well educated woman from an upper class and after the establishment of her school, nurses became associated with education and social status (Bynum, Hardy, & Jacyna, et al.1995). This changed the way the public looked that the nursing profession, but it further entrenched the image of the nurse as a woman, and it still highlighted the nursing profession as subordinate to that of the doctor (Bynum, Hardy, & Jacyna, et al.1995).
Although Nightingales work served raise the status of the nursing profession as a whole, it also served to entrench the image of the nurse as a woman. If one examines posters, promotional material, nursing manuals, and paintings up through present day, it is difficult to find one that features a male nurse (Bynum, Hardy, & Jacyna, et al.1995). Nurses are invariably pictured as a woman, furthering the idea that women are nurses and men are not.
What can be done to change public opinion?
The culturally entrenched image of the nurse as a woman is a result of social conditioning, and a heavily entrenched one at that. There is absolutely no reason why men cannot pursue a successful nursing career. However, many of them are discouraged due to socially conditioned stereotypes of male nurses. The next question is what can be done to change these discriminatory cultural ideas and replace them with ones that reflect the recognition of true equality and a work ethic based on the ability to do the job rather than outmoded ideas about gender roles.
Is often thought that a male nurse is a "wanna be" doctor that failed, but this is hardly ever the case. Many male nurses are just as dedicated to patient care as their female counterparts and are exactly where they want to be in terms of their career goals. Right now, the United States faces a major nursing shortage and is in need of any nurse, regardless of gender. This makes the need to overcome stereotypes and promote nursing as a career among men even more critical.
Currently several organizations have been formed that intend to address just this issue. Organizations such as the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) have launched aggressive campaigns to recruit men to the nursing profession. They tackle diversity and inclusion issues, as well as promoting nursing as a viable and accepted position for men. They hold yearly conferences and provide educational material that promotes the recruitment of male nurses (AAMN, 2011). They take actions to promote knowledge and acceptance of males in the nursing profession.
As with male nurses themselves, organizations that promote male nursing as an accepted career choice are few and far between. The AAMN is the largest organization…