Gender and Nursing: Changes in Nursing Through the Years

By Katie McBeth

January 7, 2018

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Gender and Nursing

Guest Post By: Katie McBeth

Why We Need More Men, but Still Need More Women

Holiday Shift

Nursing has come a long way in the past century. The evolution of modern medicine, the comings and goings of war, and the constant fluctuations in healthcare: we’ve been there for all of it.

However, through all this time, the image of the nurse has rarely changed. Throughout the century, the stereotypical nurse has always been female. Ladies have always been at the elbow of the head doctor, or helping patients in assisted care, or rushing in rooms to check on patients. This could be due to the female association for caregiving – we do have a history as midwives and Florence Nightingale often preached about our “natural” talents – or due to the classic story of the female nurse in times of war; helping the nation through our god-given talent for helping others. Hemingway sure enjoyed that trope.

Nurses are not strictly female in reality, but the majority of nursing still tends to lean ‘pink.’ However, there has been a call to male nurses on the rise, and an interesting discussion has been brought up around the issue. Here’s a look into the gender of nursing today.

Why We Need More Male Nurses

How many male nurses are currently serving patients in the United States? The most recent numbers were collected in 2011 by the US Census Bureau. Of the 3.5 million employed nursed in 2011, only 330,000 of them were male. That’s quite a gender divide. Some estimate the divide is due to a serious stigma around the image of the “male nurse,” since nursing is often female-depicted.

However, of those male nurses, the majority are still making 10% more than their female counterparts.

Yes: the wage gap exists in nursing too. Even despite the prevalence of female nurses.

Yet, don’t discourage them. Male nurses are important to the field and are needed to help fill the growing demand for medical professionals. With the rise in aging populations and the growing epidemic of chronic illnesses, there’s no way that female nurses alone can fill the demand. Adding men to nursing will not only help but will give us a chance to discuss the issues with the gender wage gap more openly.

Plus, good news for the guys out there; men are in high demand from hospitals around the country. According to TravelNursing.com, most male nurses are in California, Texas, and Florida – places with typically dense elderly populations – but are lacking in most other states. Male nurses are not only sought after but have a stable and promising future in the field.

Why We (Still) Need Female Nurses

But hold your horses! Female nurses may be the majority in the field right now, but patients need their expertise. Specifically, female patients – or 51% of the population – need the knowledge and help of female nurses.

Regis College’s nursing program highlights the important role female nurses have for their female patients, especially in impoverished areas: “One of the most important areas of study is the intersection of socio-economic factors and women’s health [3]. Researchers attributed the risk to a number of factors, including lack of access to preventive care, incomplete education about health issues, and high-stress levels. Without access to necessary preventive treatment and prenatal care, these low-income women suffer significantly higher mortality rates than the rest of the population. Through public pressure and education, the government and the private sector will continue to expand access to women’s health services throughout the country. [Female NPs] will help address the need.”

Women’s health needs may even be in danger with the recent turnout of the presidential election – with special emphasis put on closing free or low-income health clinics such as Planned Parenthood –  making women’s health practitioners even more important. They can fill the gap in understanding the body and can provide knowledgeable care to those in need.

Additionally, a recent study in France found that male doctors tend to overlook signs of heart failure in female patients. They simply believed females were at less of a risk for heart disease than male patients and didn’t screen for increased risk factors. Although it is true that men are more susceptible, one of the leading medical concerns among women is still heart disease, and overlooking risk factors is extremely dangerous. Luckily, female nurses know what to look for and can help save lives where doctors are being negligent.

The Concerns

Obviously, the wage gap is a concern for many nurses, but solutions are difficult to discuss and would most likely require a whole other article devoted to the topic. However, wages aren’t the only issue that may arise with the co-ed nursing staff.

Just as with any diverse staff, certain problems may arise because of intermixing identities. Most of these problems are easy to navigate once everyone is onboard, and the end result can be a stronger, more supportive, and mindful team.

Communication is one of the biggest issues, as people with different mindsets or perspectives will feel threatened when a new idea comes along to challenge theirs. Often times communication will turn hostile and incivility will arise among coworkers; a dangerous thing to happen in nursing as it can also affect our quality of care for patients.

This struggle can be seen in the business world, as co-ed groups are often less happy in their day-to-day working lives. However, those groups are also more innovative, productive, engaged, and profitable. Adding diverse ideas to the group allows them to think critically and make bolder decisions that are, at times, seen as unconventional.

So the tradeoffs are manageable, and the results are rewarding; despite any potential headaches you may get along the way. My only suggestion is to embrace the addition of men to the field, and to continue the discussion of wage and gender divide.

Adding men to nursing could really help our nursing numbers catch up with the rising demand in healthcare. Plus, their new perspective could really open up the doors to a more innovative future in nursing. Let’s look toward the future, and keep doing the good work for the people who need it. Maybe someday soon men will be working alongside us to better the health of the nation.

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