Male Nurses: On Defying Stereotypes


Around 9.1% of all US nurses are male of the total 3.3 million workforce according to recent data. While this percentage may seem quite small at first glance, this number actually demonstrates a rapidly growing number of active male registered nurses. Even so, it is still easy to see nursing as a female-dominated field especially since the fact remains that 90% of registered nurses being female.

Due to the prevailing stigma of nursing being a “female’s profession”, there are many stereotypes that persist to this day. These range from male nurses most likely being homosexual to male nurses being dropouts from medical school. Male nurses mention that work stress, lack of full-time opportunities, and gender-based stereotypes are the main things that contribute to job dissatisfaction.

Even though the world is quickly becoming more open to the idea of male nurses, the following are some stereotypes against male nurses you should be aware of as well as some of the actions male nurses can take to combat them.

Male Nurses Are Homosexual

Male nurses are subject to the challenges of stereotyping and role-traps almost everyday. This is as it’s common to believe that nursing is simply not a profession for men. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, In 1970, just 2.7% of all registered nurses were men. Females have dominated the field for so long that the idea of nursing being a female profession has been propagated for decades.

This significant imbalance in terms of gender can lead to the unfortunate propagation of stereotypes against male nurses, including the stereotype that if you are a male nurse, you are most likely a homosexual. if you are a male and pursue nursing as a career, you may see patients, watchers, doctors, and even your co-nurses automatically jump to negative assumptions. It doesn’t help the fact that nursing emphasizes the possession of attributes normally associated to women. Female nurses are perceived to be gentle, caring, nurturing as opposed to commonly perceived male traits such as strength and aggression. Therefore, many come to the assumption that if you are a nurse who is somehow male, it must mean that you are more feminine in nature; this is how such stereotypes come about.

George Zangaro, RN, FAAN, Associate Dean at Walden University School of Nursing mentions that this stereotype is often due to the insecurities and prejudices of a patient, and that it is crucial to practice patience and understanding when it comes to dealing with these patients. By keeping your cool and educating them on the evolving nature of nursing and the gender-related misconceptions surrounding it, you actively combat the stereotype.

The Gender Bias

As a male nurse, you will have opportunities to do cervical exams, assist in deliveries, insert Foley catheters to drain the urine of female patients, conduct breast assessment, perform perineal care, and do many other things that require physical contact with a female patient. Because of these many gender-sensitive responsibilities, role strain is inevitable due to prevailing gender stereotypes. What we mean by this is that there are several various prejudices that may come to light when patients who possess these preconceived notions encounter a male nurse.

Male nurses have to cope with female patients who may misinterpret your actions as “sexual assault” even though what you have done does not warrant such blame. Les Rodriguez, MSN, MPH, RN, ACNS-BC, APRN, clinical nurse specialist at Methodist Richardson Medical Center disputes this fact by saying that going into nursing for a reason such as sexual assault is an extremely difficult process for something so easily achievable elsewhere. It’s natural to find yourself in these unfortunate moments as they are so ingrained in socio-cultural and even religious norms; there will always come a time when female patients or even male patients will refuse your care just because of your gender. These norms not only set the boundaries of gender roles but also places limits on social and physical contact between men and women.

Gender stereotypes when it comes to male nurses are also not limited to women. It is also common for the older generation to look at male nurses differently as they may not be so used to male nurses in general. This applies for both male and female older patients. Due to the vastly different nursing environment 40 years ago wherein a mere 3.7% of registered nurses were male, it may be difficult for some patients to accept how much more prevalent male nurses have become in the last few decades.

Lastly, there is the stereotype that nursing is just simply not a “man’s job” unlike being a policeman, soldier, engineer, or especially a doctor. This can attributed to the general perception that females are more approachable, caring, and less threatening thus are more suited nurses than men. However, this widespread stereotype that still persists and several cultures is actually damaging for the nursing profession as a whole. It is no exaggeration that male nurses can be as caring and competent as their female counterparts and even excel in this field.

Male Nurses are Failed Doctors or To-be-doctors

Male nurses are also often subject to being mistaken for either a doctor or one of the orderlies. Correctly being identified as a nurse isn’t something you should count on happening most of the time. One common misconception is that male nurses are just to-be-doctors. Some people believe that being a nurse is just a temporary gig for male nurses, and once they study more, they’ll eventually become doctors. Why stay a nurse when you’re clearly more suited to be a doctor? If you are a male nurse, it’s not uncommon for patients to ask you how many years in training you have left until you become a doctor. It’s also a common occurrence for patients to mistake a female doctor as the nurse and the male nurse as the doctor!

These are related to another physician-related stereotype: that male nurses are failed doctors. This stereotype has everything to do with the common act of placing physicians on a higher pedestal compared to “lowly nurses”. It is true that there are nurses out there who decided to pursue nursing as they could not complete the medical education program. However, this does not make these nurses “failed doctors. Rather, it makes them nurses who are more experienced and more knowledgeable than usual. There are also some male nurses who decided to pursue nursing as they wished to spend more time with individual patients and focus more on the “care” aspect of health.

It is also a misconception to think that becoming a nurse is easy. Similar to becoming a doctor, one is required to dedicate most of their time studying and to absorb and retain information in minute spans of time. If you are confronted with these dilemmas, combat this stereotype by taking the opportunity to teach and educate your patients.

Defying Stereotypes

While these stereotypes may remain and persist for years to come, male nurses aren’t powerless at the hands of these stereotypes. One of the best advice that can be given to aspiring male nurses is to always strive to be the best nurse that you can be. Concentrate on the task at hand, and do all that you can for the benefit of your patients and your colleagues.

Robert Whigham, RN, a nurse at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia says to “keep your nose to the grindstone and surpass all negativity”. By listening and buckling under negativity, you let others define what you are as a male nurse. However, skills and compassion are not limited by gender. Instead, by giving your all and performing all the tasks required of you with excellence, you let the things that matter define yourself: your skills, experience, and passion for caring for your patients. Male nurses who rise through the ranks on their own merit can obtain the opportunity to challenge the prevalent stereotypes towards male nurses and even potentially changing public perception. This would help paint a positive picture of male nurses as a whole.

In the past few decades, more and more males have decided to go on the path of nursing, and we can except even more men to pursue nursing in the future. As more and more men pursue nursing, the more opportunities there are for male nurses to challenge the norms and do their part in dispelling the myth—eliminating the stereotypes that have persisted through the decades until now.