Lecture Notes

Nursing: not just a woman's world

By Matthew D. Byrne '00

I have occasionally been told that I work in a "woman's world" as a registered nurse. Men still constitute only about 6-8% of the nursing workforce and are often concentrated in areas like emergency rooms, anesthesia and intensive care units.

Students and patients frequently ask me if I get funny looks or have patients request that I not care for them because of my gender. I correct people as often as I can that I am not a male nurse, for that implies that my practice as a nurse is somehow different from my other-gendered colleagues. I am a registered nurse whose gender is male. I successfully completed the same national examination, care just as much about my patients and possess the same altruistic and nurturing drive as my colleagues.

I have no sad or melodramatic story of being treated far better or far worse because of my gender, but I am aware that favoritism and prejudice find equal opportunity in any workplace. I am rarely treated differently by patients and colleagues and work to have my sound clinical judgment and actions, not my gender, speak for themselves. I generally feel that I am treated differently because of my excellent education at CSB/SJU and because I strive for the best care for all my patients and expect my students to do the same.

I am sure that in some settings men who are nurses might be received differently. For example, very few men choose obstetrics as a specialty. I do not pretend that my gender is never an issue to my patients, students or colleagues, but I also do not let it color every interaction, nuance or situation I am in. My clinical practice in the post-anesthesia environment is one in which most patients are so happy to have awoken from their surgery that they could care less who is standing over them when they first open their eyes.

The practice of nursing is not a woman's world, nor is it unfriendly to men who have the wisdom to see that it is a great choice for lifelong learning and professional satisfaction. Ironically, most patients enjoy the variety and, unfortunately, the novelty of having a male-gendered individual designing, managing and providing their care. They quickly realize that my professionalism, compassion and knowledge are equal to that of nurses of other genders, cultures and backgrounds. I am a firm believer that the quickest way to the settling of any uncertainties about who I am as a care provider and individual is to let my actions speak for me.

In high school I often pictured myself jumping out of airplanes as a smoke jumper, preventing a forest fire from progressing into a residential area and saving lives. I liked microbiology and psychology and wanted to know what made people tick physically and emotionally. Marrying my love of science and helping people meant that I had to declare "pre-med" as my major upon applying to Saint John's. No one offered me the guidance that nursing would be a great fit for my interests and abilities, and it was only by accident that I switched majors late into my college years.

Am I treated differently? Thankfully, very rarely. My only hope is that more young men realize that nursing is an option for them and that the gender imbalance will shift. After all, as a Chicago Tribune story in May aptly  stated in its title, "Male nurses? They're simply nurses." In the meantime, I will continue the comradery, professionalism and compassion of my field.