Why so few nurses are men
Ask health professionals in any country what the biggest problem in their health-care system is and one of the most common answers is the shortage of nurses. In ageing rich countries, demand for nursing care is becoming increasingly insatiable. Britain’s National Health Service, for example, has 40,000-odd nurse vacancies. Poor countries struggle with the emigration of nurses for greener pastures. One obvious solution seems neglected: recruit more men. Typically, just 5-10% of nurses registered in a given country are men. Why so few?
Views of nursing as a “woman’s job” have deep roots. Florence Nightingale, who established the principles of modern nursing in the 1860s, insisted that men’s “hard and horny” hands were “not fitted to touch, bathe and dress wounded limbs”. In Britain the Royal College of Nursing, the profession’s union, did not even admit men as members until 1960. Some nursing schools in America started admitting men only in 1982, after a Supreme Court ruling forced them to. Senior nurse titles such as “sister” (a ward manager) and “matron” (which in some countries is used for men as well) do not help matters. Unsurprisingly, some older people do not even know that men can be nurses too. Male nurses often encounter patients who assume they are doctors.
Another problem is that beliefs about what a nursing job entails are often outdated – in ways that may be particularly off-putting for men. In films, nurses are commonly portrayed as the helpers of heroic male doctors. In fact, nurses do most of their work independently and are the first responders to patients in crisis. To dispel myths, nurse-recruitment campaigns display nursing as a professional job with career progression, specialisms like anaesthetics, cardiology or emergency care, and use for skills related to technology, innovation and leadership. However, attracting men without playing to gender stereotypes can be tricky. “Are you man enough to be a nurse?”, the slogan of an American campaign, was involved in controversy.
Nursing is not a career many boys aspire to, or are encouraged to consider. Only two-fifths of British parents say they would be proud if their son became a nurse. Because of all this, men who go into nursing are usually already closely familiar with the job. Some are following in the career footsteps of their mothers. Others decide that the job would suit them after they see a male nurse care for a relative or they themselves get care from a male nurse when hospitalised. Although many gender stereotypes about jobs and caring have crumbled, nursing has, so far, remained unaffected.
(www.economist.com, 22.08.2018. Adaptado.)