If you’ve ever seen the movie Meet the Parents, with Ben Stiller, than you probably remember the scene where he was introduced to his fiancé’s family of doctors and surgeons, only to be laughed at when he told them he was a nurse. Decades of believing nurses can only be females has led many men to believe that the job isn’t suitable for them. But although male nursing has tripled since 1970, stereotyping on TV continues to emasculate their role in the medical field, making it difficult for healthcare facilities to find and keep them, a study found.
Male nurses made up almost 2.7 percent of the nursing population in 1970. That rate jumped to about 9.6 percent in 2011, when the latest census was taken. These rates are similar in Australia and the U.K. as well, the researchers noted. But recent shortages have left recruiters struggling to find nurses, whether they’re male or female.
Male Nursing in Television
“People don’t make decisions about which profession to choose just based on television, but students have told us that popular TV shows can help them choose a career, or that TV perpetuates negative stereotypes about nursing that they then have to address in practice,” Dr. Roslyn Weaver, of the University of Western Sydney School of Nursing and Midwifery, and lead author of the study, told Reuters.
The researchers analyzed one-season’s worth of five health-related TV shows: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Hawthorne,” “Mercy,” “Nurse Jackie,” and “Private Practice.” They looked at the way male nurses were depicted with regards to dialogue, costume, casting, cinematography, and editing. As with Meet the Parents, the male nurses on each show were characterized as being less masculine.
Specifically, the researchers found instances in which they were mistaken for doctors, and also found that some of them were cast as gay or emasculated. Additionally, other characters treat them condescendingly, and constantly made them to subject of jokes. The researchers also noted that although the male nurses may have been of various minorities — Hispanic in “Mercy” and Arabic in “Nurse Jackie” — both were gay.
“Apart from ‘Nurse Jackie,’ the medical programs used in the analysis reflected programs aimed at a medically focused perspective of health where nursing is seen lower in relative status and where male nurses are seen as lower still,” Dr. David Stanley, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia, told Reuters. Dr. Stanley’s 2012 study on male nursing explored similar issues, albeit in film.
How Male Nursing Stereotypes Perpetuate in Real Life
These stereotypes translate into real-life perspectives too. For example, they could be disadvantaged when it comes to clinical specialties, they may find it difficult dealing with older female patients, and could be pressured to do more “masculine” heavy labor type of work, the researchers said.
“So when men in nursing are almost invisible in popular culture or are stereotyped as incompetent or somehow ‘unmasculine,’ then men who choose to enter nursing can find it difficult to combat this,” Dr. Weaver told Reuters. “Perhaps reflecting this, there are often higher attrition rates for male students than female students in nursing.”
Interestingly, male nurses may perpetuate their own stereotypes. A recent study found that married men or those living with a girlfriend, who also worked in traditionally female-dominated professions, did 25 percent more housework than those who worked in more stereotypically masculine fields.
“Men who work in female-dominated jobs have a harder time getting married … presumably because they suffer a lot of stigma,” Elizabeth McClintock, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame and author of the study, told TODAY. Therefore, they end up overcompensating, she says.
The payoff for male nurses, however, could be worth the stigma. Men in nursing occupations tended to have the highest paying positions in nursing, and as a whole made more than women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall, male nurses made an average of $60,700 a year compared to female nurses who made about $51,100. Male nurse anesthetists made as much as $163,000 a year.
Source: Weaver R, Ferguson C, Wilbourn M, et al. Men in nursing on television: exposing and reinforcing stereotypes. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2013.