Male Nurses More Manly Than Other Men, Study Says

male nurseThe popular image of a nurse is young, white, single and female. Sometimes she's a sexless, humorless harpy (Nurse Ratched) and sometimes she's a sexy bimbo (Nurse Betty). But she's rarely a guy. If a man enters the nursing profession, he must be an effeminate, caring type, goes the stereotype. But male nursing students are in fact manlier than their male peers, according to a new study.

Researchers from East Tennessee State University asked 109 current nursing students (81 women and 21 men) how well certain characteristics described them on a scale from 1 to 7. 10 of the attributes were stereotypically male, 10 were stereotypically female, and 10 were stereotypically neutral. The average "masculinity" score of the male nursing students was 5.3, compared to a 4.9 for men pursuing other majors, reports LiveScience.

"The nursing profession is attracting males who hold a high degree of masculinity," concluded the researchers in the November issue of the American Journal of Men's Health.

The male nursing students also rated themselves higher in the female characteristics: 5.5 on average, compared to 5.2 for men in other majors. Male nursing students can therefore flexibly express personality traits associated with both genders, the researchers claim.

Nursing has long been seen as the feminine, subservient counterpart to the doctor, like the secretary to the businessman. Following this logic, if a man is a nurse, he must have failed in some way, which is exactly what the father-in-law to-be in "Meet the Parents" feels about his daughter's hapless fiance, Ben Stiller.

"Could you at least try, maybe, to consider another profession?" he pleads.

"This is unfortunate, since evidence suggests that the optimal effectiveness of health care requires both genders in equal numbers," write the researchers.

Just 7 percent of employed registered nurses in 2008 were male, according to a national sample survey by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Some male nurses report discrimination, particularly in obstetrics and gynecology departments, and others complain that nursing textbooks reserve the male pronoun primarily for patients.

But more and more men are entering the profession. 9.6 percent of nurses registered in 2000 or later were male.

This is good news for a quickly graying profession. The median age of a registered nurse is 46.

And there is much to recommend the job. It's rewarding (81 percent of surveyed nurses reported job satisfaction), and it's in-demand, particularly with droves of aging babyboomers, who will require more medical care in the coming years. There's also a respectable salary attached. Average earnings are $66,973 a year, reports the sample survey.

Wiping out the stereotype of the white female nurse could do much to attract more talented men and minorities, and fill-up the ranks of such a vital and virtuous profession. The fact that male nurses are especially manly can't hurt.

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