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Why are there so Many Male Psych Nurses?

Career News March 16, 2013

The nursing profession has traditionally been dominated by females. Vicki Chung from Minority Nurses states that in 2001 less than six percent of the total number of nurses was male, but a decade later the number had increased by one percent. Historically, nursing is seen as being the domain of women and very few men ever thought of pursuing this type of work. Male nurses are new to the profession and are seen as being pioneers in breaking down the invisible barrier that seems to exist between the sexes.

Civil War Nurses

The Civil War had the most influence on nursing due to numerous injuries and illnesses that both sides of the conflict suffered. There were male nurses, but they did not have any training. As part of the stereotype associated with men, they were clumsy and not particularly comforting to the patients.

Cathryn Domrose, in the article she wrote for in April 2011, stated that male nurses during the Civil War did much notable work. However, it was the women that received the bulk of praises for the care they have provided to the wounded on the battlefield. The increased need for trained nurses led to the development of schools and the opportunity for women to choose a career in nursing.

Career Advancement and Gender Bias

During the mid-20th century, women had an extremely difficult time getting hired for administrative or supervisory nursing positions. Men were seen as the better choice. Some of the other obstacles faced by male and female nurses were:

•Women were seen as not having the same physical strength as men
•Women were not seen as being capable of being managers.
•Males were seen as being better suited as doctors
•There were not many chances for male orderlies to obtain a promotion.
•Male nurses were not permitted in the delivery room or care for female patients

Mental Health Settings Bias

The area of mental health is one field of heath care in which the number of male nurses exceeds that of females. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are about three percent more male nurses working in psychiatry than their female counterparts. It also reports that there are more registered nurses with a Master’s degree working in this area of specialization than those with just a Bachelor’s degree.

For the most part, the average age for nurses is around forty-five to fifty years old. For these older nurses gender bias played a significant role in their choice of career.

Even today, women are being labeled as the “weaker” sex, and mental health settings usually involve taking care of patients who have a violent past. Concerns about women being able to physically restrain patients in the past meant “stronger” male nurses who were more adept at working in psychiatric facilities.

Only recently, opportunities have opened up for men who are interested in nursing. They are now hired to work on hospital floors where there are women patients, assist in delivering babies and work in a nursery. Some women do prefer to have a female nurse.

Overcoming Bias and Trends

Today, a majority of female nurses are earning advanced degrees or advancing to managerial positions compared to previous decades. Career and educational opportunities are available equally to both women and men throughout the medical profession.

These changing views will open the door for more female psych nurses in the future. Male nurses will less likely be labeled as strange, gay, or effeminate in our society as our norms evolve to meet the enormous shortages in nurses within the United States.

History has influenced the career choices of males and females in the medical profession and positions for which they are hired. There are much more upward mobility and promotions. With the severe shortage of nurses, there is an exceptionally good chance that the barriers of gender bias will be broken down.

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