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Nursing Is For Real Men Too

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men in nursing

Nursing is not a gender, and if it was, most nurses might still be males. Most of the very first nurses were men, often in religious orders. In 250 BC, the first nursing school was in India, and only men were thought to be “pure” enough to be nurses[1]. They cooked for, bathed, massaged and assisted patients to ambulate. They cleaned and made the beds and waited on their patient’s every need, as only the purest could do.

During the Byzantine Empire nursing was a separate occupation practiced primarily by men. In the New Testament, the good Samaritan paid the innkeeper to provide care for an injured man. No one thought it odd that a man should by paid to provide nursing care.

During the Black Plague in 300 AD, a group of men known as the Parabolani Brotherhood formed one of the first hospitals to care for the sick and dying. Military, religious and lay orders of men continued to provide nursing care throughout the Middle Ages. Some of the most famous of these were the Knights Hospitalers, the Teutonic Knights, the Tertiaries, the Knights of St. Lazarus, the Order of the Holy Spirit, and the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony.

"Nurse" Once Referred to 'Male Health Care Provider'

Friar Juan de Mena lived in Santo Domingo, Mexico where he was known as Mexico’s nurse. Along with many others he was deceived into leaving Mexico for Spain and was shipwrecked off the coast of south Texas some seventy years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. This made him the first identified nurse in what would later become the U.S.

On down through history until the 1800’s and Crimean War, the majority of nurses were men. The Crimean War and the Civil War took place at approximately the same time and women became volunteers on these battlefields to care for the wounded. Although men served in the military as nurses, it was the female volunteers we hear about such as Florence Nightingale and her teachings about sanitation practices which saved lives and the need for formal training.

In 1863, a group of female physicians founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children where they provided medical and nurses training for women. Three years later the Alexian Brothers opened up their first hospital in this country, and educated men as nurses. It took a full ten years before Linda Richards graduated from the New England Hospital`s nursing training program as the first trained female nurse in the U.S.

Farming and ranching were a huge part of life in the U.S. in and the men were needed at home to manage these tasks and support their families. The young women could leave home and become nurses to support themselves.

As the U.S. became more industrialized and the population migrated westward, more men became nurses. There were several schools of nursing that were strictly for men in the late 1800’s.

Military Shifts To Female Nurses - Number of Male Nurses Decline

In the latter half of the 1800`s the numbers of female nurses grew to such a large extent that they began to organize. The American Nurses Association was formed and it excluded men from membership until the 1930`s. The female nursing organizations managed to get the military to prohibit men from serving as nurses from the early 1900’s until after the Korean War in the 1950’s. This significantly impacted the number of male nurses. Today about 35% of the nursing force in the military is men.

In the civilian population however, only about 6-7% of the nursing force is men. That number is growing however. In 2001, shortly after 9/11, many people began turning to the health field for careers and even for second, third or fourth careers to fulfill a sudden urge to help others. The majority became nurses, with men play a significant role in this group of people seeking a way to bring more meaning to their professional and personal lives.

The social and professional stigma have subsided. The severe shortage of nurses has helped to make this possible as nurses found themselves grateful for any help and relief. Patients began to understand the human element and hospitals lifted restrictions of gender.

Today's Men Are Resuming Their Historical Role As Nurses

Not that long ago, a male patient had to be catheterized or prepped for surgery involving the genital area, by an orderly or a male nurse, and not a female nurse. Conversely male nurses often were not allowed to attend to female patients. Today, patient preference is considered, but it is not mandated that gender issues be segregated.

Not unlike teaching where men once had to strive to become principals and administrators to earn significant salaries, nursing also kept many men out of the field because of financial issues. As nurses have fought for and earned higher salaries and better benefits, nursing began to appeal to men more. Men could be nurses and actually support their families.

Today, male nurses are a growing and valued aspect of the nursing profession. The art of caring is not just for women. Men and women are both nurses. Nursing is a profession, not a gender. And nurses are nurses because they want to be nurses and not because they can’t be doctors.

By Kathy Quan RN, BSN, PHN, contributing author for RNdegrees.net. Kathy is the author of The Everything New Nurse Book and the owner/author of TheNursingSite.com.


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