Medzilla Asks: Is Affirmative Action Required in the Nursing field?

Marysville, WA - June 25, 2002 - Luther Christman, PhD, RN, had already begun his fight for diversity in nursing when he was dean of nursing at Vanderbilt University in the 1950s and '60s. The first male dean in a United States nursing school, Dr. Christman employed black women as faculty at Vanderbilt for the first time. He also was recruiting men into nursing. "I made arrangements with the Pentagon to refer all the names to me of people being discharged in the southern area of the country who had been medical corps men for their four years in the armed forces. I thought they'd be a good group to recruit from because they're already oriented toward care," he says.

So, when Affirmative Action took hold under the Kennedy Administration in the early '60s, Dr. Christman was ready and willing to uphold the policy designed to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunities in areas such as education and employment. He remembers the Affirmative Action group from Washington D.C. descending en masse at Vanderbilt and warning the faculty that they would take all the federal research money away from the university if the deans failed to enforce Affirmative Action. Then, Dr. Christman says, they pointed at him and said, "Except you. You don't have to conform to affirmative action in any way."

Dr. Christman points to the mysterious lack of Affirmative Action in nursing, where men comprise 5.5% of the total nurses in the workforce, as one of the major reasons for the shortage. He says that Affirmative Action worked in medicine, paving the way for women to become doctors, and engineering, where women were once shunned.

Jordan J. Cohen, MD, who was president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, addressed the topic of women in medicine during his 107th Annual Meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges in 1996. He said, "The typical medical school of that era [around the 1960s] admitted one minority student every other year. I graduated from medical school in 1960, one of the off years. In my class of 140, there were 134 white men and six white women. And that was a banner year for women."

Today, according to the Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the U.S., 2002/2003 Edition and prior editions, representation of female physicians in medicine continues to show steady increases. In 1980, women comprised 11.6% of the physician force, but by 2000, they accounted for 24% of the total physician population. In the academic year 2000-2001, the percentage of women enrolled in U.S. medical schools was 44.6%, according to the American Medical Association.

In 1939, when Dr. Christman graduated from nursing school at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, male nurses made up about .5% of the total nurse population, he says. While he was dean at Vanderbilt, the male nursing population had grown to 3% and now it is just over 5%. "Can you imagine how the women in this country would be talking if medicine or dentistry only had 5% females working in it? Or engineering?" Dr. Christman says.

Is the key to the nursing shortage affirmative action for men?

According to Dr. Christman, while the least expensive and easiest way to get over the nursing shortage would be to enforce affirmative action, neither Democrats nor Republicans have been willing to confront women on this issue.

Still, the move makes sense, he says, when you consider that men may be a more stable workforce. "There were two studies done years ago-one was done at the University of Pennsylvania in the early '60s and that showed that only 23% of women worked full time from the time they graduated until they retired in nursing. But 97% of men worked full time. The same as men do in all the professions," Dr. Christman says. "Some 20 years later the University of Illinois replicated the study and found there was a change. Now 32% of women were working full time but the men's record was the same. When I bring this up at nurse meetings, I get nothing but a cold stare. No one wants to break the grip of white women on nursing. It's a built in construct."

"Historically, an overwhelming number of any race, religious, social group or gender in any field of employment has been taken to indicate the existence of discrimination in that field," says Frank Heasley, PhD, president and CEO of MedZilla, a leading Internet recruitment and professional community that targets jobseekers and HR Professionals in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and science. "As a society, we believe that discrimination exists where on race, ethnic, religious or gender-based group dominates another in terms of sheer numbers."

According to Dr. Heasley, when he poses the question to nurses around the country about whether the fact that 95% of the nurses in the U.S. are women suggest discrimination against males in the field, he is flooded with a range of answers. "It's a controversial topic," Dr. Heasley says. "One nurse recently said that women in nursing-like other traditionally female professions-receive preferential treatment in employment, while men receive discriminatory treatment. Another nurse suggested that perhaps men don't go into nursing because they aren't dumb enough to go into a job with lousy working conditions and mediocre pay. Still others, including several men, said that even though there are far fewer men in nursing, they tend to receive better pay and advance more quickly than their female counterparts. All is food for thought. We need to take a hard look at some of these issues before the bottom falls out of healthcare."

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Established in mid 1994, MedZilla is the original web site to serve career and hiring needs for professionals and employers in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science and healthcare. The MedZilla jobs database currently contains about 10,000 open positions. The resume databank currently contains approximately 7,500 resumes, less than three months old. These resources have been characterized as the largest, most comprehensive databases of their kind on the web in the industries served.