The Joys and Challenges of Men in Nursing
BY DARIA WASZAK, RN, MSN, CEN, COHN-S
Gerardo Gorospe, RN, BSN, MSN, is frequently mistaken for a physician — not necessarily due to his skillset, expertise, white coat or bedside manner, but because of his gender. “I am often asked why I am not a doctor. I politely say, ‘Because I wanted to be a nurse.’”
Gorospe is the clinical nurse manager in the Department of Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif. He has been an RN for over 21 years and has his MSN in education and nursing administration. Although nursing is a predominantly female profession, he decided to become a RN because of his interest in health and science, helping patients achieve wellness and the “personal interaction aspect” of being a nurse.
He spends his workday managing a team of transplant coordinators and hematology clinical trial nurses, resolving problems, supervising staff and managing projects, among many other tasks. “I think because we are in a female-dominated environment, there is, in the community at large, not a great understanding of who we are and what we do,” he says. “There are some gender stereotypes when it comes to the territory of nursing.”
That couldn’t be more evident than when you take a look at older nursing textbooks, like a 1962 edition of Mosby’s Practical Nursing that Gorospe recalls picking up from a thrift store; the cover featured a picture of a woman in a white nursing dress, white cap and heels, holding a tray. “There is certainly gender bias in our early textbooks of nurses as women,” he says.
So, does there continue to be a social stigma surrounding being male in a predominately female profession? What difficulties do men in nursing face today? Gorospe, 45, who went to nursing school in the early 1990s, says his patients never had a problem with his gender, but he did remark that since he is often the only male on duty, his female colleagues frequently turn to him for his physical strength. “I think when it comes to the physical work — lifting patients and heavy equipments — male nurses are often asked to assist,” Gorospe says, adding that his colleagues would often exclaim, “We are glad you are here today, so you can help lift.”
A Need for Role Models
Samuel Gomez, MSN, RN, PHN, CENP, was one of only two men in his nursing program in the early 1980s. Since men were even more uncommon in nursing at that time than they are now, he, like Gorospe, was frequently asked why he didn’t just become a doctor instead of a nurse.
Gomez, 48, explains that he was inspired to choose nursing as a career by a high school guidance counselor who was also a RN. “She told me that as a man, nursing was a great profession for me to explore and that it had many possibilities and opportunities,” he says. “She was absolutely right.”
Now, Gomez is the one inspiring other men to join nursing. He is currently the executive director of cardiovascular services at Mission Hospital Regional Medical and Trauma Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., but he often speaks to medically underserved middle school youth. When he was a professor at the University of Southern California, he even started a special interest group for male nursing students.
“What is most important to me as a nurse who is male is the importance of role-modeling for others, the importance men have in nursing and that as a profession, it is open and ready for more men to join,” he says. “I am always sure to point out to male students that nursing has been an outstanding career for me and it can be for them as well.”
A Tailored Fit
According to a 2005 “Men in Nursing” survey conducted by Hodes Research and published on the website of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN), approximately 6 percent of nurses are men. Nearly half of the almost 500 respondents to that survey reported experiencing gender-related problems in the workplace, including being stereotyped as “muscle,” being a minority in the nursing profession, being perceived as not caring or having trouble communicating with female colleagues.
Scott Topiol, co-founder of the online men’s scrub store Murse World, adds that male nurses often face an additional problem: Nursing scrub stores rarely have a good selection or variety of scrubs for men. Unisex scrubs, which feature solid colors, a baggy fit and a V-neck cut, are no solution; they only come in a few styles and stores seldom carry all of those. “Scrubs that are made specifically for men not only fit their bodies better,” says Topiol, “they also offer more masculine styling options that help male nurses and healthcare professionals look and feel their best on the job.“
Topiol says that one of the goals he and co-founder Alex Mayzels had in starting Murse World was to provide scrubs that are more attractive to men. “One thing we've found is that many men are looking for a more athletic, sporty cut and also want color accent options such as contrast color stitching,” he explains.
Like the respondents of the 2005 Hodes survey, 38-year-old Troy Gideon, RN, BSN, critical care clinical coordinator at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif., says that one of the biggest challenges male nurses face is continuing to improve their professional interactions with female colleagues. “A man in a female world must learn the intricacies of female communication and the dynamics of their interrelationships to be able to work collaboratively towards a goal,” he explains.
Despite the communication hurdles, Gideon has seen improvement for men as nursing has evolved over time. “I think that the industry has changed greatly in its social context as the field has become more educated and professional,” he says. “With this change and the financial stability that comes with it, nursing has become a magnet for more males, thus dissolving preconceived stigmas.”
Managing the Whole Patient
Gomez, Gideon, and Gorospe all spoke about how rewarding their nursing careers have been, whether they have involved teaching, leading and supervising other nurses or performing patient care.
“As nurses, we are for the whole individual, not just managing the medical condition or surgically managing a patient. We manage the patient holistically,” Gomez says. “That was all I needed to know about the profession of nursing — that it was aligned with who I was as a person and as a human being.”