As a male nurse, I find myself in a unique position within a profession often associated with female caregivers. It’s the perspective that has opened my eyes to the nuances of gender-based treatment by doctors and patients within the healthcare industry. Simply put, I’ve noticed that my female colleagues and I aren’t always treated the same way, despite performing the same duties with equal levels of expertise and dedication. This bias against women in healthcare has been ingrained in medicine since Ancient Greece; medicine has absorbed and enforced socially constructed gender divisions at every stage in its long history” (Cleghorn, 2021).
Now, this isn’t a grand revelation or a call to arms, but it’s certainly a topic that merits discussion. With this article, I hope to share some of my experiences and observations regarding these disparities. My objective is to provide insight into this less-talked-about aspect of healthcare and consider how it impacts both healthcare professionals and patient care.
When I first chose nursing as my career path, I expected to face challenges related to the gender stereotype associated with the profession. I thought I would have to prove my competency and dedication against the preconceived notion that nursing is a woman’s job. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was the unexpected privilege that came with being a male in a predominantly female profession.
In my years as a nurse, I have observed how my interactions with doctors, patients, and even other colleagues often differ from those of my female counterparts. Whether it’s the extra second of attention I receive from a busy physician, or the unspoken assumption that I’m in charge when working in a team of female nurses, the difference is subtle yet palpable.
And this difference is backed up by data as well. A 2020 global study from the United Nations reported that 90% of people have a strong explicit or implicit bias against women (Villenes, 2021), supporting my theory that being a male nurse has innate privileges compared to female nurses.
Disparity in Treatment: Doctors and Nurses
The hospital setting is a melting pot of diverse professionals collaborating for a common goal – patient care. Yet, I’ve noticed differences in how male and female nurses are treated by physicians. There seems to be an unconscious bias favoring male nurses, manifesting in more direct communication, quicker responses, or more serious consideration of input.
I remember a time when I was working alongside a female nurse who had many more years of experience than I did. Despite her seniority and expertise, the attending physician appeared more receptive to my suggestions than hers. This was not an isolated incident and is just one of many such experiences I’ve witnessed or been part of.
Misogyny from Patients
The interaction between patients and their caregivers is a cornerstone of effective healthcare. As nurses, we’re often the first point of contact, providing not just medical care but also emotional support. Yet, there’s a perceptible difference in how patients often react to male and female nurses.
It’s been my experience, and that of many of my colleagues, that patients sometimes attribute more authority and competence to male nurses. They may assume we’re doctors, despite being introduced as nurses, or they might express surprise when they see us performing routine nursing duties. While these might seem like innocent assumptions, they reflect deeply ingrained societal stereotypes about gender roles.
These assumptions can affect the dynamics of patient-nurse relationships. Female nurses sometimes have to work harder to establish their authority and competence, and this extra effort can detract from the energy they have to focus on patient care. Addressing these biases is not only a matter of fairness but also essential to improving the quality of care that patients receive.
The Silent Damage: The Impact on Female Colleagues
Working in an environment where one’s competence and authority are routinely questioned or overlooked can take a toll. The women I work with are skilled professionals who are passionate about their work. Yet, the subtle and not-so-subtle biases they face can affect their morale and job satisfaction.
When their expertise is overshadowed by gender-based preconceptions, it can lead to feelings of frustration and undervaluation. This, in turn, may affect their professional growth and even their mental health. Understanding and addressing these issues is crucial for maintaining a healthy, productive work environment where every individual feels valued and respected.
The Need for Change: Addressing Gender Bias in Healthcare
Gender bias in healthcare is an issue that affects us all. It’s not just about fairness for healthcare providers; it also influences the quality of care that patients receive. It’s time for us to acknowledge this problem and actively work toward change.
Change starts with awareness. Understanding our unconscious biases can help us recognize and correct them. It involves continuous learning, open dialogue, and a commitment to equity. Policies and practices that promote gender equity can also play a vital role.
My Role as a Male Nurse in the Fight Against Misogyny
Being a male nurse comes with a unique set of responsibilities. It’s not just about doing our jobs effectively; it’s about using our positions to challenge the status quo and advocate for equity. By recognizing the unearned privilege I receive, I’ve realized that it’s my duty to help balance the scales. The Nursing Manifest has a great article that discusses ways for male nurses to combat misogyny in healthcare (Primiano, 2017).
Remember that being an ally isn’t a passive role. It requires active participation, continuous learning, and sometimes, uncomfortable conversations. It involves listening to the experiences and perspectives of my female colleagues, and using that understanding to inform actions and attitudes.
I’m Nurse Carlin. I’ve been an RN for over a decade. Despite the many challenges of this profession, I still feel as passionate about nursing as I did in the beginning. When I’m not in scrubs, you’ll find me with my husband & 3 kids at the beach, riding my Peloton, or relaxing with my beagle, Astro
Photos by Nurse Carlin