The history of the nursing field is often depicted as a profession that opened employment doors for women, and contributed to giving women a respected foothold in the working world. While the efforts of activists and politicians have supported the integration of women into the male dominated workforce, little attention has been given to men trying to enter female dominated professions. Both historically and in the present, the nursing field is intrinsically regarded as a single-sex occupation, and has been distinguished as a career that complements the natural abilities of the female gender (Meadus, 2000). The role of men in the nursing profession has been widely dismissed as accounts of male nurses refer to them as "attendants, assistants, or soldiers" (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007, p. 6). Language is not the only form of discrimination against male nurses. As of the present, gender bias in the nursing field is still relevant. Male nurses have been steered towards specific disciplines, which further marginalize men in nursing. In educational settings, males continue to encounter social bias, however subtle, and experience the pressure of social expectation (Wolfenden, 2011). Males are faced with stereotypes and may experience psychological effects that can lead to role strain. Men in nursing continue to experience prejudice in the field as they encounter gender bias, which has culminated in recruitment barriers. Minimizing the number of men in nursing is contributing to the nursing shortage; a nursing shortage has the potential to impact the quality of patient care.
Reviewing the history of nursing and understanding the role of men is challenging, in part due to the lack of nursing registrations and licensure that is now required in modern times. The history of nursing is also often told in conjunction with the history of medicine, and deciphering the prevalence of men in nursing alone is difficult. The earliest known record of individuals being trained to provide nursing care occurred during the Hippocratic period of ancient Greece, and men were supervised as nurses under male physicians (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007). The full extent of care given by these male nurses is unclear, and it has been suggested that the men were needed for ambulatory care, rather than helping the physician with their practice (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007). Women were not trained as nurses, but were often tending to the sick and wounded once an individual was in the home. In ancient Rome, soldiers received the best nursing care and would be treated in tents or private buildings by older men or women (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007). The time between 1500 and 1800 has been referred to as the "Dark Ages of Nursing" because of the decrease in nursing values and knowledge base in the West. Scholars ascribe this decline in nursing knowledge to the closure of monasteries and convents as a result of the Protestant Reformation (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007).
The downfall of men in nursing is dated to the mid-19th century and is attributed to Florence Nightingale (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007; Wolfenden, 2011). Nightingale wanted to reclaim the respect that was once given to nursing by opening a nursing school and creating a nursing registry. Separate registries were created for men and women, which propelled segregation. The men were directed into areas of practice considered appropriate for them, such as mental health, and away from areas that were suitable for women, such as labor and delivery (Wolfenden, 2011). Nightingale is considered responsible for the decline in male nursing; however, there were three social changes prior to Nightingale that also contributed to the absence of men in the nursing field. First, there was a rapid decrease in monasteries and male nursing orders due to the Protestant Reformation. Second, the poor quality of nursing and the lack of discipline in the field diminished the respect for the occupation, driving working men away from nursing (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007). The third and most significant preventative to men in nursing was the Industrial Revolution, which created new job opportunities that required physical labor and were attractive to the male workforce (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007). In 1937, approximately 28,000 nurses graduated from American nursing programs, however, between 1939-1940, less than 1,000 of graduates were male (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007). Until the 1960s, men were legally barred from entry to practice in the majority of nursing fields. In addition, both the United States Army and the Canadian Forces denied men from entering nursing until the late 1960s (Wolfenden, 2011).
The segregation of men and women in the nursing field has impacted the education of male nurses, which can ultimately affect patient care. Men were legally barred from various clinical rotations, such as obstetrics and gynecology. However, male students were still expected to have the knowledge from these rotations in order to become a certified nurse (Wolfenden, 2011). Although men are no longer barred from some areas of practice, there are still policies in place at some institutions that will not accept male students (Wolfenden, 2011). These institutions automatically put male students at a disadvantage and prevent males from accessing equal nursing resources.
In present day, prejudices against men in nursing are less overt but still exist in forms of subtle, and significant, bias. The language used in nursing is one form of subtle discrimination against men. In some of the more dated texts, the role of male nurses was dismissed as "attendants, assistants, or soldiers" (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007, p. 6). The use of the feminine pronoun in nursing contexts contributes to the assumption that all nurses must be female. Gender biased language generates pressure on both men and women to anticipate the gender of all nurses to be female (Wolfenden, 2011). Furthermore, the distinction of "male nurse" is a significant form of discrimination that stems from the use of language. The term "male nurse" suggests that men in nursing are not normal and emphasizes that males are a rarity in the profession. Professions that are predominately male have reverted to gender-neutral language to help facilitate the integration of women into the occupation; however, nursing textbooks still predominately use gender-biased language (Wolfenden, 2011).
The psychological effects of men in nursing, a predominately female occupation, are emphasized by gender assumptions. Caring for the sick and injured has been regarded as a skill-set that comes natural to women. Social expectation assumes that men do not have the innate ability to be nurturing, caring individuals to tend to those in nursing settings (Wolfenden, 2011; Meadus, 2000). Gender-based stereotypes are reinforced by popular culture, with "the portrayal of male nurses as homosexual, if they are portrayed at all" (Wolfenden, 2011, p. 2). The stereotype assumes that men who are nurses must be feminine (and assumes that all homosexual males are feminine in nature) in order to have the capacity to empathize and serve patients (Meadus, 2000). Gender assumptions can cause men in nursing to question their masculinity and ultimately experience role strain (Brown, 2009). Role strain can affect career aspirations and may account for why men in nursing are more likely to pursue leadership roles in the field (Brown, 2009).
The culmination of gender assumptions, role strain, and gender bias language, has created barriers for the recruitment of men in the nursing field (Meadus, 2000). The United States and Canada have been anticipating a nursing shortage, and the weakened economy has left the healthcare industry unstable. The aging nurse workforce and the decline in enrollment in baccalaureate programs have contributed to the decrease in registered nurses (Meadus, 2000). In addition, the once male-dominated workforce has been integrated with women, and fewer women are turning to nursing and other female-dominated professions due to new employment opportunities. The gender bias that has ingrained itself with the nursing profession and the nursing profession's failure to incorporate men into the occupation has supported the recruitment barriers. High school males represent the potential for nursing recruitment and could address a nursing shortage and increase enrollment in baccalaureate programs (Meadus, 2000). Failure to meet a demand for nurses would ultimately impact the quality of patient care.
Activists have long been advocating for the integration of women into the male dominated workforce, however, little attention has been given to the integration of males into female dominated professions. The nursing field is both historically and currently regarded as a solely female occupation that is credited for giving women a foothold in the working world. Men working in the nursing field have been subject to gender bias and prejudice. The decline of men in nursing is attributed to Florence Nightingale; however, the closing of monasteries and the Industrial Revolution (prior to Nightingale) were conducive to drawing women to the nursing field (O'Lynn & Tranbarger, 2007). Nightingale wanted to reclaim the respect of the nursing profession by opening a school and creating nurse registries. A separate registry was created for men, which promoted segregation. Until the 1960s, the United States Army did not allow for male nurses and male nurses were also barred from practicing in some areas of…