MedZilla Asks: "Why Are There So Few Male Nurses?"

MARYSVILLE, WA -- June 6, 2002 -- Author and Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Faludi wrote in her book Stiffed about men being at the mercy of cultural forces that disfigure their lives and destroy their happiness. Enter men in nursing, where men are but a small fraction-5.7% according to the latest statistics-of a female-run workforce, and little seems to be changing. "Men are not encouraged to go into nursing, and, for the most part, the male population is overlooked by the profession," says Frank Heasley, PhD, president and CEO, MedZilla, a leading Internet recruitment and professional community that targets jobseekers and HR Professionals in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and science.

Dr. Heasley says that in order to attract men into nursing there will have to be a paradigm shift. "I think it's going to require a sea change, starting with a new name and image," Dr. Heasley says. "I don't think men in particular enjoy being called nurses. It carries a very strong gender stereotype in our society. Perhaps nurses should be called 'medics'. The fact is that is what they do, and the change of title could be positive for both men and women."

Though he never before thought he would agree about a new name for his career, 35-year nursing veteran Eddie Hebert, RN, BSN, now agrees that the word "nurse" carries a stigma. "I think if they would change that word to something that would not have that feminine connotation to it, it probably would lend itself to more men coming into the profession," he says. "But it has to come from within the nursing community to want to change. And I don't see where that will happen."

How about a few men in the ads?

Hebert, a director of nursing at a Louisiana hospital and secretary for the American Assembly for Men in Nursing, says that there is not enough advertising done to project the image of men in nursing. "If you look at any picture, you'll always see the comforting caregiver as typically being the white woman. The patient is the man and he is awfully sickly looking. It's a selling point for getting more women in the profession," according to Hebert. "If you were to see a man as a caregiver you may see him with a child, at most, but you will never see him as a caregiver to a woman. It's the image that a lot of women have projected onto the American public. So the American public thinks that the only people who can actually take care of patients are women--white, young and pretty women."

Chad Ellis, RN, who is a floor nurse at a hospital in Missoula and teaches at Montana State University, scratches his head about why, if nursing is trying to recruit men, there aren't more ads where men will find them. Nursing ought to learn about marketing from Corporate America, he says.

"I get rather frustrated at times because the call for bringing more men into the profession has been around for many years. My feeling is that marketing to men is an easy thing to do. Beer companies do it. For one reason or another, the profession has chosen not to do it," he says. "If you're going to reach an audience of men, you have to go where men are. Why aren't these ads shown at nationally televised baseball games? I attended a career fair a few months ago at our college for some of our nursing students. There were a number of hospitals and healthcare organizations. I looked around to see what they were doing to attract nurses. One hospital was giving away stethoscope covers-they were bright pink."

According to Ellis, men need to see pictures of men working as nurses. But men aren't going to see them if they're tucked away in a magazine that men never look at. "Here in Montana, we have a lot of rodeos through the summer. When I go to the rodeo, I see a lot of ads for products, such as chewing tobacco and recruitment ads for fire fighters and the military. I wonder why there aren't any ads for nurses."

Set goals-create pressure to recruit men

Schools, associations and others charged with recruiting into the profession should have goals, according to Ellis. Goals are an essential part of marketing any business, he says. "They should say, 'in five years, we'll have to have 15% men.' I've never heard of a school doing that," Ellis says. "There is an unwritten rule that if a university distributes its brochures and men respond, great. But that's not good enough. If you say you want to get more men in the profession you can't just talk about it, you have to do something."

Care giving is not feminine-it's universal

Hebert went into nursing because of its caring aspect. According to Hebert, it's inaccurate for marketers to think that men don't want to care. "It's not just a feminine thing, it's also a manly thing to take care of your family, children and patients," he says.

Hebert also suggests promoting the benefits of nursing to men. For example, he says, "What about promoting the challenging aspects of nursing: working in the emergency department or in a trauma unit, with high technology? Not enough men know about nursing's career potential," he says. "No matter where you go, I think you can make a living today as a man in nursing. Men need to know that."

Provide role models

There is a shortage of male role models at universities and hospitals, Hebert says. Men in nursing have a responsibility, Hebert thinks, to mentor others in the profession.

Work toward universally higher job satisfaction in nursing

The important issues of job satisfaction and general job perception loom in nursing as in other industries. "In order for men to perceive nursing as being attractive, I think it has to be perceived in general as being attractive," Dr. Heasley says. "My understanding is that nurses are no more dissatisfied about their jobs than the general population are disgruntled with their jobs. Overall, two-thirds of all American workers are mildly to extremely dissatisfied with their jobs. The lack of men in nursing is not due to job dissatisfaction. It's a result of cultural stereotypes and image."