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Men Need Not Apply

 

what now

 

If we, as women, want equality in the workplace, why are we sabotaging our fellow nurses? Why do we call males in the nursing profession “male nurses”? Using this phrase insinuates that nursing is a female profession. It is true that in recent history nursing has been dominated by females. Currently about 10% of nurses are male, but that number is growing. Women have fought for status among our male physician colleagues. We wanted to be respected for our knowledge, training and experience. Our sisters, daughters and friends became medical doctors by an increasing number. Gender stereotypes in medicine have been torn to bits. We do not refer to women MDs as “female doctors”.  Yet we cling to our gender biases in the nursing field. This bias is clearly evident in the obstetrical field. In the land of labor and delivery, female nurses continue to dominantly out number male nurses. This may be more design than accident or patient preference.

It starts in nursing school.

Beginning in nursing school, men are cautioned to be respectful of mother’s wishes to be cared for by women only. This warning is appropriate and justified as some cultures and religions forbid men from caring for women. Other women may have experienced sexual violence or simply prefer women only care givers. Outside of these exceptions, it should be presumed that the gender of the nurse does not matter. The hypocritical bias against men in labor and delivery is especially apparent during nursing school.  It is common for a male student to be shooed out of a patient’s room that not only has been to a male doctor, but has male residents rounding on her. The message that we are giving our fellow nurses is clear.  Male doctors are respectful and take care of patients appropriately, but a male labor nurse is, for lack of a clinical term, creepy.

I have heard the argument that men don’t understand what women need in labor, because they can’t have babies. This is a belittling and backwards notion.  If that concept is extrapolated out to other fields of nursing, then only cancer survivors can work oncology, the mentally ill can only work psych and diabetics only can teach about diabetes. There are many women that have never, and will never, have babies that are wonderful labor nurses. I have met many of these ladies and I am proud to call them friends and colleagues.

As a clinical instructor, I spoke to a patient and asked permission for a male student to take care for her during her delivery. This is not an action that I wanted to take, but what was required of me by the unit. The sweet lady agreed graciously. Her labor nurse went right in after me and sabotaged the whole plan by “clarifying” that this was a MALE nurse and he would be there for the delivery and was she SURE that she wanted a MAN in her room. When the question is posed in that way, patients may begin to feel embarrassed and feel like they should say no. Her doctor was male, which made the situation more preposterous. The student was gracious about the situation, but his learning suffered because of a nurse that felt justified in blocking him from the experience.

Is our culture biased against male nurses?

There is a cultural bias against males in OB nursing.  It begins in nursing school and is reinforced in the hospital setting. I have had multiple conversations with floor nurses, hiring managers and physicians regarding hiring males into labor and delivery. The push back is quick and strong. We don’t need men here, we don’t want men here and our patients shouldn’t have to have men in their deliveries. A survey was conducted to gauge perceptions of males in obstetrical nursing revealed that this is not what patients, nurses or men prefer (McRae, 2003). According to the study most pregnant women would accept a male OB nurse. Up to three quarters of the labor nurses surveyed had positive attitudes toward male labor nurses. Few men had worked in obstetrics, 6.8% and most said they would not want to work in OB. Male nurses did site nursing school as the reason they were not interested in OB. These results can be viewed as a tremendous positive for men who would like to pursue obstetric nursing. With very little representation in the specialty, men enjoy a favorable opinion from both mothers and current labor nurses.

Social Media weighs in on the topic.

I quick polled two of my online social groups. One is a mothers group and one is for labor nurses. The majority of the mothers reported that they would be comfortable with a male labor nurse. The ones that stated that they would  uncomfortable explained that they were exceptions. They agreed that males should be free to be OB nurses and probably would be good at the job.

Brittany Renee Dunevant summed up her feelings this way, “Women have a male doctor (OBGYN), so what is the difference? If he knows what he is doing, then he is the same as a female nurse to me.”

The labor nurse group had similar feelings. All respondents agreed that males should be OB nurses. About 46% of the nurses had worked with male OB nurses. Half of the nurses said that although there was no official ban on male nurses, it was an unspoken rule in their labor unit.

Erin L. Hollen is a perinatal nurse, certified childbirth educator and  breastfeeding counselor.  Erin discovered that she had some hidden biases that the survey brought to light. Upon reflection she observed that a male nurse may have a positive affect on fathers. Speaking of fathers Erin shares “…if they see that you can still be supportive of a woman in this situation and still be ‘masculine’ maybe they will participate more.”

Is labor and delivery a secret, girls only club?

In many hospitals the answer is yes. The new question is: How will we break down the gender bias that we are perpetuating with each new class of nursing students.

Answer: Let male nurses into OB. No questions asked.

 

McRae, M. (2003). Men in Obstetrical Nursing: Perceptions of the Role. MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, 28(3), 167-173. Retrieved November 22, 2014.

 

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5 thoughts on “Men Need Not Apply

  1. I normally do not respond to blogs and articles but this one hit home. I had an experience very similar to what your student had as a nursing student. From almost minute one I was made to feel uncomfortable during my OB clinical. I remember thinking it must have been what men went through to become a nurse in any field 30 or 40 years ago and now it is just relegated to OB.
    We arrived on the unit the first day and were told to put our bags, coats, and things in the nurse’s locker room. So we all brought everything in there and were pouring it away when a staff nurse came in and saw me and actually became angry that I was there. Apparently the room with the sign that said Nurse’s Locker Room, meant FEMALE nurse’s locker room and I obviously was trying to sneak a peek. The staff nurse informed me I was not allowed in there and then grabbed my preceptor and chewed her out a bit. It was decided that I would keep my stuff in an on-call physicians office off the unit and through locked two doors.
    Needless to say it was a consistently uncomfortable experience for the entire duration of that clinical. I actually considered myself fortunate that a nurse I met in my psyche rotation (who happened to be male) had warned me that “Peds and OB are a women’s world. Do not expect a warm reception, especially in OB.” My psyche preceptor heard him and told me it wasn’t true, but something told me it was. I still just can’t believe how true it is.
    One conversation I had with one of the OB nurses consisted of her telling me with a straight face that she thought it was great men were getting into nursing because they are stronger and sometimes they need help transferring patients. I waited to see if she was kidding, but I could tell by her face she did not think anything was wrong with her comment. I replied that I hoped men had more to offer nursing than their muscles but she missed my meaning.
    During my clinical I was refused by every single patient except a very unfortunate eastern European woman who had been pushing for hours and ended up with a c-section, and I think that was just because the nurse did not want to be in the room anymore. As was noted in the post how a patient is asked greatly affects how they will respond to the request, at least at my clinical site it was clear they were asking in a way that was not going to get me in the room intentionally or not.
    By the last day of my clinical I had written OB nurses off as a bunch of man hating birth groupies that I never wanted to interact with again. Fortunately on that day I ran into one nurse that found it ridiculous that I was about to finish my OB rotation without seeing a birth. Her only patient in labor at that time did refuse a student anyway, but this nurse made me take off my bright red scrub top from my school and put on hospital scrubs and a mask and pushed me into the delivery room anyway. Unethical? Yes, but so was the way I had been treated up to that point. That was my only positive interaction with an OB nurse during my entire clinical.
    Currently I am an APRN student and just felt my first fundus in a clinical setting. That was the moment I realized I had been robbed of a great learning experience not by the patients who didn’t want a “creepy murse” in the room but by the nurses that were perhaps acting to protect the wishes or dignity of their patients, or perhaps much more likely acting on their own biases and preconceptions.
    To this day I tell people it was a good experience because as a Caucasian male I learned what it feels like to be discriminated against. But somehow I don’t think that is what I was supposed to get out of it.

  2. Scott,
    Thank you for sharing your comment and your story. I have been humbled by the response this blog post has recieved on LinkedIn, Facebook and now here. This is a topic that I have felt strongly about for many years. By my nature and as a nurse, I balk at discrimination and injustice whenever I encounter it. I think this especially hits home for me because it happens in my own house, so to speak. OB nurses are so often champions for the underserved populations and the weak and powerless in our communities. I find the action and justification of how men are treated in OB nursing extremley incongruent with nursing values. I agree that you were robbed of a wonderful and educational experience in nursing school. I hope that your APRN clinicals will correct the past. What specialty are you learining? Thank you again for sharing.

    Carrie

  3. Wow, what a great article!!!!!!!!! It is funny I work in Public Health and we would love to have men in our practice. We complain to our supervisors all the time. Nothing wrong with a ‘male’ nurse at all. We all learned the same way!

    1. Tanya thank you and I agree. I think that recruiting males in to nursing would help our nursing shortage problem.

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