HAGATNA, Guam — When you think of a nurse, you automatically summon the image of a woman in white uniform and a cute little cap— not somebody who watches football, loves sports cars and sports facial hair.
The male nurse remains a bit of a novelty. While it may seem role and gender stereotypes and traditionally associated with women, more men have been entering the field of nursing.
According to a University of Guam study, the percentage of male RNs increased from 9.5 percent to 12.2 percent between 2003 and 2011— but still remain the minority.
“Today, nursing remains an ever-growing profession, but the number of female to male nurses is largely disproportionate,” reads a report by UOG instructor Verna Jayne N. Zafra, who surveyed UOG students on their perceptions toward males in the nursing profession.
“A possible reason for why men are so underrepresented in comparison to women is because nursing is often considered to be a feminine profession.”
The link between nursing and femininity lies in the general characteristics associated with both females and nurses.
“Traditionally, females have been prescribed as nurturing individuals, and through the doctrine of separate spheres, are relegated solely to matters of the home,” Zafra wrote.
In the clinical situation, it was found that a bias still exists against males in certain clinical situations.
Female nurses are greatly preferred in procedures that involve patients’ private or intimate areas, such as bed bathing and shots to the buttocks. Specific areas in the nursing profession are emerging in which males are preferred and more regarded than females – mainly heavy, physical labor.
The study, however, found that although it has long been considered a feminine job, this notion is changing, along with the stereotypes commonly associated with it.
“There is an acknowledgment that males in the field still do face challenges because of their sex. However, male nurses’ work competency is not in question. They are perceived as being just as capable of providing the same care and skill as their female counterparts,” according to the study, which showed 82 percent disagreed that “male nurses are not as skilled as female nurses.” Not a single respondent agreed with this statement.
Overall, the female respondents of the survey were more positive about the statements about nursing and male nurses than the male respondents.
Younger respondents, specifically those aged 18 to 21, were more conscious about sex differences of nurses. They were also more particular about the sex of their attending nurse.
“One speculation to explain this phenomenon could be that the younger respondents lack the open-mindedness toward males in nursing compared to the older respondents, who appear to be more impartial about the issue,” Zafra said.
The research generally concludes that nursing is a profession currently in transition.
“As more males enter the line of work, shifts in perceptions will eventually follow. While the results of this research illustrate that the views of college-aged students toward male nurse are already more accepting, improvements must continue,” Zafra said.
“Breaking down the existing gender barriers in nursing will not only facilitate a more equal work environment among nurses, but it will also benefit those receiving care from them.”