Tackling Gender Stereotypes in Nursing

According to the US Census Bureau, less than 10 percent of all registered nurses are men, and traditionally, nursing programs have been largely populated by women. It’s a stereotype that nursing is a “woman’s profession” since Florence Nightingale founded it in the mid-1800s. But times are changing: the percentage of male nurses was less than three percent thirty years ago. Among the most popular nursing jobs for male nurses is that of a nurse anesthetist, with 41 percent of them being men. Nursing anesthetist Matthew Doherty shared his experience being a male in a female-dominated field and what it was like to start his medical career.

ExploreHealthCareers.org (EHC): What inspired you to become a nurse?
Matthew Doherty (MD):
I’ve always wanted to help people. I had started with getting a behavioral neuroscience degree and then eventually going into pre-med. My plans changed when I felt that I wasn’t going to get that connection with patients that I was looking for if I went into pre-med. As soon as I graduated from college, I decided that I wanted to go into nursing.

EHC: What did your educational preparation look like?
MD: I went to Northeastern University in Boston for the behavioral neuroscience degree. Then, I worked in a pharmacy for a while when I was trying to figure out what path I wanted to go down.

Eventually, I completed my accelerated bachelor’s of science in nursing at Rutgers University. The program was insanely quick since the accelerated programs can take anywhere between 16 to 24 months to finish. Because it’s fast, you’re not able to balance a full-time job or focus on raising a family while doing the program. It’s a great option for some, but it’s not for everyone.

Six years after I received a nursing degree, I achieved my master’s in nursing anesthesia at Drexel University.

EHC: What led you to choose the anesthesia specialty?
When I first started nursing in 2010, believe it or not, it was difficult to find a job in nursing. Eventually, I was doing cardiac nursing and was then recruited to work in the cardiothoracic ICU. I’d have frequent interaction with the anesthesia team and they would tell me that it’s an exciting career and that you can learn a lot and help your patients.

I was originally turned off by it because I figured that you can’t have a connection with a patient if they’re asleep. The anesthesia team was so persistent that I agreed to shadow a nursing anesthetist. As it turns out,  I liked it. With being a nursing anesthetist, you have complete autonomy as far as different medications go and still have a connection and rapport with the patient and family.

EHC: As you likely know, the nursing industry has traditionally been dominated by women. Fortunately, the US Bureau of Labor reports that gender diversity in this field is increasing. The number of men who work as nurses has tripled since 1970. Have you seen an increase in male nurses since you entered this field?
MD: I’ve seen it increase, but it really depends on the manager I had at the time. For example, I’ve noticed that when I’ve had male managers, the staff tended to be more male. When I worked for a male manager who came from a trauma unit, about 60 to 70 percent of the nurses on the ICU staff were male. On the other hand, when I had a female manager, only about 30 percent of the floor was male. Nursing used to be considered a “ladies’ profession,” but I think that stereotype is starting to change.

EHC: What are the common misconceptions about your career? What specific misconceptions or stigmas do you face as a male nurse? How do you respond to them?
MD: There’s a common misconception that only guys work in the ICU. I’ve worked with some great women in the ICU, women who have worked there for 30+ years. People tend to think that men don’t want to work on the floor or have a connection with patients. They think that guys just will do their time in the ICU and then go back to school.

To learn more about nursing specialties, take a look at the nursing overview to find out which position is the best fit for you.


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