Today's Nursing Education Programs

Unfortunately, the gender-based bias that began with the Victorian Nightingale movement has remained the dominant philosophy within the nursing culture (O’Lynn, 2004). The move toward making certain careers like teaching and nursing a sacred extension of motherhood duties, and thus deemed inherently women’s work, was virtuous at the time and served a purpose in the wake of the Civil War as our country transitioned from an agrarian society. However, that view no longer exists.

Bernard Hodes Group (2005) reported that the majority of male RNs (56%) indicated that they encountered difficulties during their nursing education within a traditionally female profession. The three top reasons respondents gave for encountering difficulty within their nursing programs were the difficulty of being a minority gender (57%), being seen as muscle by female nurses (56%) and the perception that men are not caring (51%). Other examples mentioned include being inappropriate for some procedures/specialties (e.g., OB/GYN), credibility due to gender and reluctance of female patients to be attended to by males.

Although it is slowly dissipating, the negative stereotyping of men in nursing continues to permeate the profession. These discriminatory practices based on archaic beliefs begin the moment a man contemplates entering the field of nursing (McLaughlin et al., 2010; Meadus, 2000). Even when a man’s family, friends, finances, and previous life experiences indicate that he possesses the necessary traits to successfully become a nurse, he must first pass the often untenable academic hurdles that stand between him and licensure (Anthony, 2006).

Nursing Education Programs

The literature suggests that men first face discrimination in the nursing school admissions process. This is complicated by long waiting lists of men and women hoping to gain entrance into nursing schools. Over 5,000 qualified applicants were turned away in 2003 due primarily to a lack of qualified academic instructors. However, it appears that men are denied admission at a proportionately higher rate than women (Megginson, 2008). Meadus (2000) discussed a survey conducted in 1990 of 270 baccalaureate programs that revealed 70% of these programs made absolutely no effort to recruit men into the field of nursing. It is easy to understand why 12% of the colleges reported no men were enrolled in their nursing programs.

Although there are many other possible reasons for this lack of interest in assisting men into the nursing field, the primary reason appears to be simply a lack of motivation on the part of the college and university faculty and administration to welcome men into the profession. If men do not apply, gain admission, enter, and finish nursing school, they will never become nurses (McLaughlin et al., 2010). Therefore, administrators of nursing schools are the largest of all gatekeepers into the female-dominated profession.

Kelly et al. (1996) explored possible reasons for the underrepresentation of men in nursing schools and found that the men in their study perceived an inherent bias against them within the established educational system for nurses. Carol (2009) pointed out that even though the students in nursing schools had become more diverse, the nursing faculty had remained virtually unchanged. They are still predominantly middle-aged, white, and female. Until this view changes, men and other minorities will continue to feel isolated and struggle to fit into the suggested archetype of a nurse.

Carol (2009) elaborated on her stance that biases exist in the nursing school admission process that impacts all minorities but can be especially problematic for men. One glaring example cited included that potential students earn points toward admission for proven leadership skills including those gained from being a leader in a sorority; however, leadership in a fraternity, the military, or civic involvement such as serving as a volunteer fire fighter are not included in the list. This is but one of many examples how the entire process of program admission needs to be reexamined and updated to acknowledge the presence of men in the profession.

McLaughlin et al. (2010) pointed out that it is time for nursing educators to break down the gender stereotypes and fully incorporate men into the profession. It is important to address this issue in all three programs (diploma, ADN, and BSN) but primarily with the 2-year community college faculty because that is where the majority of men earn their nursing degree. The community college offers many advantages over the other two programs including a lower cost of tuition, accessibility in more communities, and familiarity with the part-time, older, returning, career-changing male student (Orsolini-Hain & Waters, 2009). No studies were found to address the issues of men seeking admission into a RN-to-BSN program.

More recently, researchers like McLaughlin et al. (2010), Le-Hinds (2010), and Kirk (2012) validated that male nursing students continue to face direct and open discrimination. Earlier, Bell-Scriber (2008) highlighted characteristics and negative behaviors of nursing educators toward men and pointed out that it is often not what is said but rather how something is said by female educators that is perceived as demeaning by male nursing students. Kelly et al. (1996) found that male students frequently reported feelings of isolation and loneliness, exacerbated by the knowledge that Americans have an underlying assumption that all nurses should be women and that men in nursing possess questionable morals and motives.

This has been reported to occur in lectures, textbooks, tests, and general conversation among nursing students, members of faculty, and other leaders in administration. One objective, classical example is using the ubiquitous pronoun "she" when referring to a nurse. Clarifications using terms such as "male nurse" further sets them apart as being different from the rarely uttered reference to "female nurses" (McLaughlin et al., 2010). Kelly et al. (1996) suggested solving this by referring to nurses generically using a gender-neutral pronoun such as "they" or "them." To do anything less is to increase the sense of isolation felt by male nurses.

An unpublished study on men’s perceptions of online nursing (Kirk, 2012) revealed that men prefer that modality for their RN-to-BSN program to a traditional classroom environment. Although they still faced a certain amount of gender-based barriers, they enjoyed the teamwork and opportunities for leadership.

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