March 26, 2017

Why are male nurses outnumbered?

Queen’s male nurses discuss whether they see their rarity as a concern.

Approximately eight per cent of students in the nursing program at Queen’s are male.
Credit: 
Graphic: Mikayla Wronko

For Griffin Bastedo, being one of the six male students that make up the first year nursing program makes him feel special, rather than a minority.

“We’re nicknamed the ‘murses’,” Bastedo, Nurs ’20, said.

In an interview with The Journal, Bastedo said he knew before coming to Queen’s to do his degree in nursing science that both the program and the profession are overwhelmingly female-dominated.

“When I came here, I thought that I would encounter some rude ‘manly-mans’ in other programs who would have set views that nursing is a female profession. I have not yet met one person that has said, at least to my face, that nursing is a women’s profession.”

Gender gap aside, Bastedo said going into nursing was important to him after seeing the difficulties experienced by his grandmother with the care she received care from her nurses.

“As long as you love your program and you enjoy your time at school, you’ll go into the workforce and have a job you’ll actually like. That’s what’s important — not other people’s opinions.”

Bastedo belongs to a single digit percentage of men at Queen’s who are studying to earn their Bachelor of Nursing Science (BNS) — a prerequisite degree for becoming a Registered Nurse (RN).

In the BNS graduating class of 2016, out of 123 students there were only 10 male graduates.

The route to becoming an RN is academically rigorous relative to other nursing certifications offered in colleges. 

Becoming an RN requires a Bachelor’s degree in nursing science along with the completion of an additional examination. At Queen’s, a competitive average to obtain one of the over 90 spots in nursing is in the low 90s, with supplementary essays of personal experience.

On  campus, there are numerous student initiatives — such as a Robogals and Scientista — that are aiming to promote gender equity where there’s a lack of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors.

However, there are no formal groups or awareness campaigns at Queen’s addressing the gender gap in nursing. 

For Spencer Raby, Nurs ’18, he doesn’t have the patience to argue over which minority has it worse in each program.

“In any program, you’ll have setbacks and you can always play the game of blaming it on some unfair disadvantage which has befallen you,” Raby said in an email to The Journal.

“I know there are a fair amount of groups and initiatives with the goal of getting women involved in STEM, but I’ve never seen the equivalent for men in nursing.”

From Raby’s experience in the nursing program, he attributes the gender gap in the nursing program to two main reasons: the inevitable differences in interests between men and women, and the perception that men who choose to go into nursing are less respected or impressive than if they had instead gone into a male-dominated field.

Raby said he believes these perceptions are partly the reason why his housemate, who was also a male nurse, left the program.

“His mom at one point mentioned that a girl he knew ‘wouldn’t want anything to do with him anymore’ because she was going to be a dentist and he was going to be a nurse.”

“I think to get more men involved in nursing, male nursing students and nurses have a role to play in dispelling that attitude and promoting the field as a whole, and to be role models for the next generation.”

According to Jennifer Medves, director of the School of Nursing and vice-dean (Health Sciences), the percentage of male nurses in Canada has been static at four per cent for years. It’s only within the last 10 to 15 years that the number has risen to eight per cent. Most sources corroborate this trend. 

“Twenty-five years ago, there were less tracks open to women and you saw a high concentration because they could be nurses or they could be teachers but some of the other disciplines were very difficult to get into. Women have as much of a choice, you need to make sure men recognize they have as many choices,” Medves said.

Medves commented that the gender gap exists in the faculty as well, with the number of male professors in nursing in proportion to the undergraduate level. The School of Nursing currently has one male faculty member.

“A male nurse with a PhD is pretty rare — so for us to have one is good,” Medves said.

Where there are male nurses, Medves said she finds that men are attracted to more sub-disciplines than others.

“You wouldn’t find many men, for example, in maternity. But you do tend to find more men in emergency nursing, ICU and interestingly, mental health.”

Cheryl Pulling, associate director (Undergraduate Nursing Programs), said she finds there are more male applicants to the Queen’s Advanced Standing Track program — a two-year fast-track program — rather than the four year degree program.

“We recruit equally. I do have some parents or male students ask if we give preference to male students. No, we don’t, we’re always looking for the best candidate,” Pulling said.

For Queen’s student Alex Faroldi, Nurs ’18, after volunteering with Kingston General Hospital, he realized that nursing would allow for him to develop strong relationships with the patients.

“You see patients really remembering their nurses more than other healthcare providers because they’re there all the time,” Faroldi said.

Comparing his experience at a co-ed high school to an essentially all female program, Faroldi said that he can’t think of any differences in terms of his education experience in either. 

“We’ve all been treated the same — I’ve never once went ‘well, this is because I’m a guy.’ We’re all students in this program, and it is a difficult program.”

With the few men in the nursing program, Faroldi said he finds the male nurses have close friendships with one another.

“We’ve had a bunch of conversations about it’s funny how no one really cares about the low enrollment of men in nursing programs, it’s been stuck on engineering and maths — which is great because it’s super important but it’s also interesting.”

“I think the most important thing in being healthcare providers, and especially to the patients, is that you care. If you’re empathetic and provide the best care, gender doesn’t come into play. It’s important to want to be there and want to be the best.”

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