More than a few good men needed in nursing

Walt Whitman and his male nurse Fritzenger
Image via Wikipedia

“Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go…” Walt Whitman “The Wound Dresser” The Civil War Poems

Walt Whitman was a nurse. My students, and especially the male students, always seem surprised by this fact. Whitman stumbled into volunteer nursing during the Civil War as he went looking for his brother wounded in the war. It is difficult to find reliable statistics on such things, but it is likely that male nurses involved in the war were not unusual.

We need more men in nursing. They don’t have to be poets as well, but we need more men. Whenever we discuss the need to increase diversity in nursing, it needs to include gender diversity. This fact is addressed in the IOM Future of Nursing Report. They point out that all other health care professions have achieved approximately equal gender parity. Even among the traditionally male dominated physicians: 50% of MD graduates are women.  And looking outside of health care to another (at least more recently) ‘female dominated profession’—teachers in public schools, 25% of the teachers are male.

What’s wrong with us? Current HRSA statistics are that only 7% of our RN workforce is male, and our schools of nursing only admit 13% male students. A quick and highly unscientific analysis of the undergraduate students I have personally taught in the past 12 months (close to 300), are that only 8% are/have been male. The current “Master Plan for Nursing” in Washington State where I reside and teach, completely leaves out gender under discussion of the need to improve diversity within nursing. Apart from all of the societal issues of gender stereotypes related to nursing, I do think that the ‘old girl’s network’ of leaders in nursing education is hindering an improvement in gender equity. I think that many of the nursing leaders have an unacknowledged bias against men in nursing. I have seen this played out and even stated in classroom settings, in meetings, in reports, and ‘in private/behind closed doors.’ What are they afraid of? I don’t think that it is a coincidence that there does seem to be a strong age correlation, and the older cohort of nursing leaders tend to have a stronger anti-male nurse bias. But given the ‘advanced age’ of our nursing educator workforce throughout the US, this translates to a big problem for making nursing education more gender-neutral.

The American Academy of Men in Nursing (aamn.org) takes on these and related issues—and they are open to women members as well as men. Their 2010 winners of the “Best Nursing Schools for Men” include Duke, Louisiana State, and University of Pennsylvania. I plan to check out what they are doing right.

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