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Men and Nursing

In modern American society, the concept of male nurses is as foreign as the idea of female firefighters. Sure, a handful of male nurses exist, but they are wrongly stigmatized as “lesser men” with female tendencies. No one can pinpoint the exact impetus behind the delusions that characterize nursing as a female-oriented profession. Responsibility, however, lies with the American public—both men and women—to debunk these myths.

Rich Van Rensselaer is one such individual working tirelessly to subvert the notion of codified gender roles. Leaving his successful boutique liquor store in Ponce Inlet, Fla., Van Rensselaer earned a master’s in clinical nurse leadership from the University of Maryland at the ripe age of 45. He did not sell his liquor store to prove a point to anybody, nor was he motivated by a rebellious spirit to prove naysayers wrong. His inspiration came from his dying mother, whom he took care of in her final months of life.

Van Rensselaer nursed his mom, who was fighting thyroid cancer, at her home in Florida. His time spent working with hospice nurses allowed him to realize the rewarding potential of a nursing career. Although Van Rensselaer faced several hurdles in his pursuit of a nursing degree, none may have been tougher than an obstacle he never expected: his father. The younger Van Rensselaer demonstrated that nurses were not merely women running around in little white caps and short skirts—nurses are health care professionals burdened with the responsibility of “keeping people alive.”

Like Van Rensselaer’s father did, much of the American public view nurses in the same narrow-minded light. As stated earlier, no specific event or catalyst triggered the female-dominant orientation of the nursing field. Jerry Lucas of MaleNurseMagazine.com suggests a possible cause of this misconception—the advent of the United States Army Nurse Corp in 1901 altered a prevalently male military nursing force into one that was exclusively female. Male military nurses were not seen again until the Korean War concluded over half a century later.

The mainstream media—newspaper, radio, television and cinema—portrayed these very same gender-specific roles, only depicting female nurses providing care on both the battlefield and civilian facilities. Even in today’s media, on such popular shows as “Scrubs,” male nurses still suffer symptoms from the reproach of working as male nurses. Sometimes derogatorily titled as “murses,” male nurses continue to battle the discord that nursing is a female responsibility.

Correlation does not always translate to causation, and the aforementioned factors may have simply contributed to an overarching list of potential influences. That being said, male nurses, along with any minority gender in any profession, should embrace the challenge to educate the misinformed and unaware public. The ultimate goal of a nurse, whether female or male, is to provide support, care and assistance to patients in need. The intrinsic motivation and desire of nurses to offer quality services should take precedence over the gender administering said services.

The field of nursing continues to grow in terms of both demand and employment opportunities. Nursing programs are blind to gender and color, and no genetic predispositions should stop individuals from striving for these highly rewarding careers. According to the New York Times, only 6 percent of the nursing profession is male. Although this figure seems somewhat bleak, the article reports that males represent almost 14 percent of the current nursing-student population, displaying a push in the right direction. Aspiring nurses of all genders and creeds should not hesitate to take advantage of these favorable circumstances.


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