Nurse is Not Gender Specific

Nursing has a media identity problem, and it extends to men in nursing. For every sexy nurse Halloween costume, there is a patient refusing care from a nurse who is also a man. For every nurse-bitch portrayal, there is a gay male nurse joke.

Don't Call Me Murse by jparadisi

Don’t Call Me Murse by jparadisi

Occasionally, I read comments saying something like, “It’s about time men are exposed to what women have to endure in the workplace: less respect, lower pay, fewer promotions.” Women experience these inequities, but punishing another group instead is not the way to promote equality in the workplace.

According to a report published by the WSJ, the number of men in nursing has tripled since 1970 to nearly 10 percent. Men choose nursing for the same reasons women do: job stability, flexible hours, skill variety, and opportunity for promotion. Interestingly, according to the same report, men in nursing earn more money than women in nursing. This is not attributed to gender bias, but instead to choices: Men are less likely to enter nursing as LPNs, more likely to enter nursing at the BSN level or higher, and more likely to become “nurse anesthetists (41 percent), who earn nearly $148,000 on average, but only 8 percent of licensed practical nurses, who make just $35,000.” Men are also more likely to work full time than their female counterparts.

Still, men in nursing report problems of gender bias within our profession. A few common complaints are:

  • The persistent myth that men are less caring than women. The statement is rather a paradox considering the volume of information about bullying among nurses.
  • Many men complain that they endure more scrutiny and criticism of their nursing skills than their female counterparts.
  • The existence of tenacious stereotypes, which belittle all nurses.
  • Don’t call me a “male nurse” or “murse.” Like firefighter, soldier, pilot, and physician, the title nurse is only gender specific from a gender-biased perspective.

Why wouldn’t a person of any gender not want to work in a profession combing the education, technical skills, and personal interaction found in nursing? Add in nursing’s flexible hours, stable employment, and its identity as the most trusted profession? It is a disservice to discourage anyone with what it takes from entering our ranks.

So the next time your child’s elementary school teacher invites you to Career Day, if you are a woman, bring along one of your male colleagues, and begin changing the image of nurses for the children we are raising.

And a word to the guys: If you’re the new nurse in a unit of women, please leave the seat down in the staff restroom. This can make or break your relationship with colleagues.

Will we ever reach a point in the nursing profession where stereotyping no longer exists? What experiences or suggestions would you share?

The Tangled Mess of Art and Nursing

Rain on Sidewalk photo: jparadisi 2011

The rain outside comes down in buckets. The sun, hidden by thick, dark clouds, casts no shadows to clue me in to how rapidly the morning is passing. I am restless. I find it difficult to sit at my desk and write a post. These unfocused days used to distress me. I felt sure I had used up every viable idea I would ever have.  Older and slightly wiser, (one does not necessarily lead to the other) now I recognize these days as periods of germination, but they have nothing to do with gardening. They are days obscured by ideas and feelings tangled together like the debris-matted hair of a trauma patient on the white sheets of an ICU bed. It takes time to carefully pick free each idea, one at a time, like washing dried blood from snarled hair. It’s messy work.

Making art is messy. History shows that making great art is often painfully so. Making a mess is counter-intuitive to nursing training. Nurses spend their shifts fixing the messes of others, while artists demand the freedom to color outside of the lines. I am learning to navigate this duality, which is pretty much my life.

The rain has slowed to a rhythmic beat upon the roof and dreamily I’m lulled into a memory. I am in the pediatric intensive care unit, holding the head of an unconscious patient, while my coworker gently washes her soiled, matted hair. Up until now, she has been too unstable to do so. It is my job to make sure her endotracheal tube stays in place, so the ventilator can continue to breathe for her. She tolerates the hair washing without need of further sedation, and her nurse parts her hair into strands and expertly begins French-braiding it. The skill and dexterity of his fingers surprise me as I watch. I’m not as good at French-braiding as he is. A father, he tells me his wife taught him how so he could get their daughters off to school properly on the days she had to work. I am impressed. When he finishes, we replace the wet sheets under his patient with clean, dry ones. Then he helps me wash my patient’s hair and French braids it too. I know that when both sets of parents return in the morning to visit their children, they will be pleased that we took the time to do for them what they cannot do while the children are PICU patients. I imagine them talking about it in the parents’ waiting room. Even the day shift nurses are impressed by my coworker’s unexpected skill.

I sit at my desk, picking stories out of the tangled mess of my memories.