In recognition of National Men’s Health Week, Springer Publishing Company is highlighting men in the nursing profession. The following article is adapted from A Man’s Guide to a Nursing Career by Chad O’Lynn.
Men have worked as nurses as far back as anyone can tell. While the growing attention the public gives to men in nursing would suggest that male nurses are a recent happening, or that men are turning to nursing only now because of recent economic troubles, people have been sick and injured since the beginning of time and in the past, countless numbers of women and men have served as nurses. However, in 2008, men made up only 6.6% of all RNs in the United States.
At the same time, more men were entering nursing school than ever before. Between 2001 and 2004, 9.1% of all students graduating from nursing school were men, and that percentage rose to 9.8% from 2005 to 2008. Unfortunately, historians have been neglectful, and perhaps even unkind, in their writings about the important role of men in nursing.
The denial of men’s rightful place in nursing’s history is more than just an academic concern; it denies men gender-appropriate nursing role models. Role models of the past can teach us how men shaped the values of nursing and how they make those values come alive as they care for their patients in today’s changing healthcare environment. Unfortunately, men in nursing have reported that the lack of role models with whom they can identify creates a sense of isolation and uncertainty as they pursue a nursing career.
The story of men’s history in nursing must include accounts of individual male nurses who have contributed greatly to their patients, their communities, and the development of nursing as a whole. Men need to hear about these male examples, but so do women. The story of men’s history in nursing will illuminate for women that men are not some new invaders of nursing, but rather a familiar and trusted team member.
From the very beginning, women have sacrificed much and worked tirelessly to care for the sick and needy and create the nursing profession as we know it today. In books and films, and when we visit our health providers, we experience the amazing women we know as nurses. These women inspire us. They serve as role models to young people looking for meaningful careers. But few teachers and scholars tell the stories of men in nursing to their students. This has caused some men to ask how they fit into nursing and even wonder if they belong in nursing at all.
Role models help us through the struggles we face; and men face some unique struggles in nursing. Their stories and ideas help us problem-solve, guide us to a better place, and feel less alone in our struggles. Many authors report the benefit of positive examples, particularly for people who don’t fit into the mainstream. In addition, many researchers believe that role models who share the same gender may have the best positive influence on people. This belief is called the “similarity hypothesis”. People who can identify with their mentors have increased motivation to succeed. People benefit more if they personally know their role models and have frequent contact with them.
Today, there are many men in nursing who can serve as good influences for young men just starting out. But many of these men are hidden. They are working quietly in their jobs, often away from most nursing students and new nurses. Therefore, historical figures may be the first role models available to young men at the beginning of their career journeys. These new role models will help young men become great nurses and, in turn, become exemplars for the generations of young men to follow. The stories of the male nurses of today and tomorrow are yet to be told.