The History of Men in Nursing

Before delving into the current issues men face in nursing it might be helpful to provide a historical perspective. Nursing literature (including modern textbooks) tend to neglect the presence and accomplishments of men in the profession. This void gives the impression that male nurses are nonexistent or undervalued in the field. They are often portrayed as overly effeminate (Rangel, Kleiner & Kleiner, 2011) or in a negative light with phrases such as anomalies, perverts, and lacking in ambition (Anthony, 2006; Dyck et al., 2009; Evans, 2004; Harding, 2007; Kelly, Shoemaker & Steele, 1996; Laroche & Livhen, 1986; McLaughlin et al., 2010; Okrainec, 1990). Yet, there is ample documentation to support the fact that throughout history men have been involved and instrumental in caring for patients (Mackintosh, 1997).

Men in Early Nursing

Initially developing out of religious orders in the 4th and 5th centuries, men provided bedside care for the sick, injured, and dying (Evans, 2004). As monasteries began to dissolve in the 16th century, records of organized, nonmilitary nursing activities disappeared until the 18th century when they reappeared in England where men were trained in academies to care for male patients (Evans, 2004). When the monasteries disengaged from nursing care, women (primarily nuns) began to care for patients (Rangel, Kleiner & Kleiner, 2011). However, men continued in nursing and often doubled as soldiers in times of war (McMurry, 2011).

Nightingale's Influence

Men in nursing all but ceased to exist in the mid-19th century when the iconic Florence Nightingale, the mother and founder of modern-day nursing, firmly established it as a "woman’s occupation" (Anthony, 2006, p. 45). One of the tenets of this movement was that women, as natural care providers, did not need additional training to work in subservient roles as nurses in the hospitals for male physicians. Men were primarily relegated to the asylums in psychiatric nursing because of their physical strength (Evans, 2004). Loughrey (2007) commented that this perception has endured for centuries, as men are still perceived as incapable of providing the nurturing care required in nursing.

When this Victorian separatist ideology was solidified, men in nursing were incompatible with the established gender roles (McLaughlin et al., 2010). As a result, men were excluded from most hospital-based nursing schools until the late 1960s, citing a lack of residential and restroom facilities. A small number of hospital-based programs were developed specifically for men in larger metropolitan areas such as Chicago and New York City. Even in those programs, men were not allowed to receive clinical training in pediatrics, women’s health, obstetrics, or gynecology. This is interpreted by some as an indication that men should not work with these more vulnerable populations, thereby reinforcing the view that men are perpetrators (Bell-Scriber, 2008).

The community-college-based ADN programs began in the late 1950s as leaders in the nursing profession attempted to increase the scholarly base of the training at a time when community colleges were becoming popular throughout the country as extensions of the public school system. Combining the academics of local colleges with the clinical training provided in hospitals provided an effective platform for training new nurses. The early programs attracted students that were not good candidates for the apprentice-based programs that often required the students to live on the hospital grounds. These new nursing students were often older, married, parents, and male. Additionally, the cost for tuition was lower than the four-year institutions, and community colleges were available in most communities.

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