August 25th, 2011
In 2004, the National Student Nurses' Association conducted an online survey about nursing, including the perceptions of men in nursing. Half of the male nurses who responded said they have trouble in the workplace due to the perception that they're the "heavy lifters" of patients. They also mentioned gender-related communication among issues they deal with regularly. This feedback got me thinking, and I reached out to some male nurses to find out: what has been the hardest thing about being either a male nurse or a male nursing student?
Jorge Nunez, MSN, CRNA –Nurse Anesthetist
"Initially, the hardest parts for me were the gray areas of nursing. Men tend to be black and white in their thinking, but my background is even more complex since I was an engineer in the military before I was a nurse. In nursing there are 500 ways to do something, with multiple plans/multiple answers. In engineering one plus one always equals two; in nursing, one plus one might equal something different. What works, what doesn't work varies. As a CRNA, you administer a medication and should get a certain, expected response… then you don’t. In military training you work on muscle memory, and you just respond. In anesthesia there is constant response, assessment, response, assessment. Trial and error is not familiar to most men. You have to develop fluidity of response or decision making process."
John Costo, BSN, RN-Operating Room Nurse
"Women's moods. No question. The guys that I work with in the OR are so much easier. We are just direct. Just recently I was talking to another male RN about this very subject. If I come in a room and something is amiss all I have to say is—what's up? In 10 seconds I'll know and we will figure out how to fix it. With women there are feelings and emotions and stuff. It's not every day, and not all women are like that. It's just so often there is all this extra baggage. With men it's either this—or that."
Thomas Rangel, BSN, RN-New Grad
"Two things came up during my clinicals in nursing school. When I was in the ER the first time, I had to place EKG leads on a woman. I was so grateful for my preceptor, who was a male nurse. I would have just reached out and stuck them on her chest and under her breasts. He explained how I needed to do two things, keep her comfortable and protect myself. He explained how I should use the back of my hand for lifting, and/or cover her chest with a pillowcase before touching her to maintain her privacy. I had just never given it any thought. Another time, I was with a male physician who had to try to fix a collapsed lung. Initially, the female patient didn't want either of us in her room, just because we were men.
Now I am out of school and recently, I was looking for some extra work. I answered an ad from a family needing help on weekends. The ad said they were looking for an RN, RN student or LVN. The only response I got was that the patient prefers a female. I don't even know if the patient was a man or a woman."
Robert Sabbara, RN, ENP-Emergency Nurse Practitioner
"For me, one of the hardest things I have faced as a male nurse is that people automatically think you are gay. It's not that I have a problem with being gay, it's just the expectation that I am. There seems to be a belief that I must be effeminate because I am a male nurse; yet, repeatedly, patients will say they would prefer a female nurse. There is the perception that all female nurses are more compassionate, more empathetic. Now, being in the ER, that behavior is not quite as prominent because there are more men in the ERs, the ORs, and the ICUs. There is less of the Maslow touchy-feely practice and more process-driven A-B-C-D, which is what men are perceived as being better at."
Jonathan Bush, BSN, RN-Hemodialysis Nurse
"I've been working with women for so long it all seems normal. Plus, I've been working in hospital environments since I was 18, and not much seems that hard anymore. I guess the one thing that can still stand out is trying to get over the whirlwind. I feel like things are often made five times more complicated than they need to be to my mind, as a male. It's a whirlwind of emotion, as likes and dislikes create more issues. My answer is to just try to stay out of fray as best I can. When I am talking to a patient or sharing a report I say—so this is the problem, this is what you do to fix it. I'm more like a one-two, knockout punch — simplify. I don't really have gray areas."
Clearly the distinctions between the sexes filter through to variations in how nurses view — and perform — their jobs. Vive la difference.