My Life As a Male Nurse. Encountering staff bigotry.

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Dealing with bigotry and stereotyping

Bigotry and stereotyping is still prevalent in our society today.

The daily challenges of a nurse should not be hampered by prejudices of ignorant and uninformed people.

After graduating from nursing school in the 70's, when attitudes were not so much different than they are today, stereotyping, as a social problem, was present and palpable in all types of business enterprises.

But let me clarify that comment.

In those days men who chose to enter the nursing field did so at their own risk. We were looked upon as "freaks", and many other things that i won't elaborate on at this time.

The medical field along with most other professions of the times were classified as either "men's work" or "women's work"; and never the twain's shall meet.

If they did, there were social consequences to bear.

  • Nursing = women's work.
  • Doctoring = men's work.

These two were sort of 'cut and dried', so to speak. Other areas - not so much.

Somewhat undefined and acceptable to both sexes within the medical field were:

lab techs, X Ray techs, physical therapy, social workers, etc....

Nurses and nursing assistants were segregated:

  • Male nursing assistants could only care for male patients.
  • Female nursing assistants could care for both sexes (something to do with the 'mother' image of caring for boys and girls i would suppose).

Social barriers

Barriers had to be removed.

Times started to change, with the incoming societal concept of: "equal work - equal pay".

The "Women's lib" movement was the catalyst for this change.

Although it took much longer to raise women's salaries to equal their male counterparts; and sad to say, there is still some disparity in that area today.

But also bear in mind that the old mentality that had to be changed was that:

  • men were always in charge,
  • and women belonged in the home - barefoot and pregnant.

In the nursing field, the concept of "male" nurses became more common, but even today there is an assumption that all male nurses are homosexual; which, in itself, cannot be further from the truth.

There are exceptions to every rule, in every profession, and every walk of life.

One personal experience, which i found amusing, were the many times patients and their families would ask me:

"Are you a male nurse?" with the emphasis on 'male'.

I would just look down toward my feet and reply:

"The last time i checked, i was".

This usually broke the tension and gave a little credence to just how silly this question really was.

A nurse is a nurse, is a nurse, is a nurse, and sex has nothing to do with it.

At least not while working.

I was certainly not effeminate in any way, but felt the hatefulness of bigotry every day in my professional life. I was young, self-confident and "well above" showing the normal reactions to the innuendos, slurs and ignorance.

Though it was disparaging and hurtful at times, i mostly just shrugged my shoulders and attributed it to the ignorance of the person spewing those words out of a mouth that was obviously connected to a narrow minded brain.

I was single, getting a good wage, able to buy a home, a new car, and build up a good savings account. So, i silently adopted the attitude of:

"sticks and stones, may break my bones, but words can never hurt me".

I was good at my job, always on call, punctual, reliable, worked many hours a day, and often 7 days a week, weekends, and holidays so my married colleagues could spend those times with their families.

And i was certainly happy with the extra pay at time and a half.

When promotions became available, i would get as far as the interview and generally told up front, in no uncertain terms, that although i was highly qualified and capable, they were looking for someone who was "married", more "stable", and less "potentially controversial' (assuming that amusing statement meant no questions about my 'sexual preferences').

I knew exactly what they were implying. This was the rampant societal bigotry of those times.

When i was finally promoted to 'nursing supervisor' by a "progressive" thinking director of nursing, who did not see being single as an affliction, or a handicap, there was much chatter and gossip about the rationality of having an "unmarried" male 'boss'.

(Incidentally i did date women - just not nurses).

Amusing yet frightening

On another occasion one of the nurses suggested i ask one of the other nurses out, who they thought would be a good 'match" for me.

Probably so, but she was involved in a long standing relationship and very happy. We were friends and I would never have interfered in some one's relationship. So, i laughed and said "i wish" and started to walk away. When i over heard an older married, slovenly [habitually negligent of neatness or cleanliness especially in her personal appearance and overall hygiene] nurse (i will call Bonnie) commenting under her breath to the others in ear shot:

"Oh, don't bother, he's queer. I have been alone with him many times and he never once tried anything".

This was one of the rare times i lost my temper.

I walked back to her, and in front of the others, replied very quietly:

" i heard what you said. Very unprofessional. And my only response to you is this: if i had the choice of (screwing) you or a pig - i would choose the pig".

Not very professional on my part either. The others laughed at her. My point was made.

I quickly exited the scene.

A couple of days later i was sitting in my office doing some paper work and a man appeared at my door.

He was dressed in a prison guard uniform with his hand resting on a gun in his hip holster.

I asked:

"can I help you?"

He asked:

"are you (d.william)?"

I said

"yes, how can i help you?".

He replied:

"I am Bonnie's husband".

I asked:

"So, how can i help you?".

He said:

"she told me you called her a pig!"

I quietly sat back in my chair half expecting to be shot on the spot. After all I was younger, and better looking, than him. So i just quietly asked:

"if your hand on your gun is supposed to intimidate me in some way - it doesn't. I will tell you the rest of that story, but you probably won't like it".

He told me to

"go ahead i would like to hear your side of it"

I repeated the incident to him exactly what was said, by her, and by myself and quickly added:

"she's obviously not my type".

He asked:

"what in hell does that mean?"

I answered:

"you are".

He took his hand away from his gun.

His face turned the oddest shade of red i had ever seen and said:

"hey, man, I'm sorry. She should have known better. I guess she deserved your answer and we will discuss this further when she gets home tonight".

He then turned and walked away.

I can tell you that was one scary moment.

I still have nightmares about it, even 30 years later.

Dealing with "staff" prejudice

Sometimes, even the staff, said and did, things that took me by surprise.

One morning, before becoming their supervisor, i worked as charge RN on the medical/surgical unit. Every morning we all sat around the conference table so i could pass out the daily assignments and give a summary of the patients activities from the previous evening and night shift reports.

One of the nursing assistants leaned over and whispered something to another aide. Then they both glanced over at me.

Thinking i might have dirt on my face, a booger, or something stuck in my teeth, i stopped talking and commented:

"If there is anything you would like to share with the rest of us you are welcome to do so now. Otherwise pay attention to report."

So the girl doing the whispering said:

"Sorry, i was just making an observation, that you were the only 'white' person at the table."

I looked around the table and there were six nursing assistants and one assistant nurse besides myself at the table.

They were all black.

I said:

"Excellent observation skills - but without any relevance whatsoever $6. i did not notice until you so graciously pointed that out to me.. .I never see people as colors, and i am sorry you have the need to do so. Just be assured that none of you are here because of the color of your skin. You are all here because you are excellent at your jobs. In the future I will try to make an effort to make sure i do not give all of my 'white' staff the same days off if that will make you feel more comfortable, and just another point of re-assurance - I give days off according to staff needs - not color of skin."

No-one commented and she looked a little ashamed for causing this negative attention to herself, while everyone else at the table just scowled at her, shaking their heads in disbelief and disapproval.

People never cease to amaze me. I really found no relevance in that comment and find it difficult to fathom that any one else would either.

by: d.william 02/02/2011

Sarah McLachlan - In the arms of the angels

© 2011 d.william

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Comments 18 comments

Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 5 years ago from Rural Arizona

d.william, this was a very enjoyable read. Wow talk about some fast thinking, you earned the big "fast thinker" award for that hostile situation.

My aunt and uncle were both nurses back in the late '40s and early 50's, so I guess I never gave much thought to male nurses. About three years ago I did a stupid thing and fractured a hip, which required a few days in the hospital and a nice new metal replacement hip thing. The best nurse on the staff was a male nurse named Fred. I commented to one of the female nurses about what a great job he did, and she advised me the rest of the nursing staff thought he was probably "gay". I told her that was very odd, because he had dropped by one evening with his wife and youngest son to bring me a book he thought I should read. She looked very surprised because none of them even knew he was married. I have remained in contact with Fred and his family, and we often share a barbeque evening at either of our homes. We have actually become very close friends in spite of the fact that Fred is black, and I am white.

People just should not jump to conclusions so easily. Great hub as usual my friend.


d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

http://hubpages.com/profile/Old+Poolman

Wow. that is some story. Exactly what i mean by people jumping to conclusions based on their perceived stereotypical ideas. Thank you for reading and commenting. Unfortunately though this is still prevelant today. I have always worked with females, and have a policy to never get involved with people i work with. Even to this day, people you work with (women) make unwarranted conclusions if you do not make some kind of advances toward them.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 5 years ago from Rural Arizona

d.william, at one point in my career I was in total charge of a department that employed 120 females. This was far from the most pleasant job assignment I had during my time with this company. Needless to say, there were plenty of temptations, but to make advances toward a subordinate employee was a career ender, and I am happily married. Sometimes it is just better to just do your job well, and choose your friends outside of where you work.


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 5 years ago from Sweden

This was a very interesting read. But I must say, as a female and former nurse for twenty years, that you must have had some bad luck with the ones you have worked with. I have worked with a male nurse, at a gynecological ward for making it even worse, and of course we joked with him a lot, called him nurse Bjorn, and so on. But I cant remember that anyone made a pass on him. He was just another nurse. And the hospitals are full of working men, doctors, nurses, and other! There is a need for more men at all levels in the hospitals so I certainly hope things has progressed away from that kind of situations. I think you handled the situation great! And thanks for sharing this, this is things that needs to be discussed and recognized if there is ever going to be more male nurses than today. Thanks!


d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

http://hubpages.com/@thougtforce

Thanks for reading and commenting. I am sure there were other states, towns, and medical settings that were more enlightened than the one i grew up in. This area has always been known for religious based bigotry. Some things will never change. I certainly hope that people are more intelligent, informed, enlightened and accepting today, than they were when i started out.


fucsia profile image

fucsia 5 years ago

I am a nurse and I work with male colleagues every day, unfortunately they are too few! They usually have a more practical idea of the work and help the group to have a good harmony. I never have heard that they are effeminate, I never have thought of this.

Anyway thanks for the nice read!


d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

http://hubpages.com/@fucsia

Thanks for reading and commenting. Either you are young, or lived in an area where bigotry was not as prevalent. Or perhaps i have just had the misfortune of being in a place of limited mentality. Most areas heavy in religious brainwashing, are more narrow minded than the rest of the civilized U.S. The deep south, and most remote rural areas in the New England states are the most religiously indoctrinated and harbor much hatred for anything, and anyone who does not fit into their little circles of life. I am glad that you did not have to experience that mentality.


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 5 years ago from South Carolina

I graduated nursing school in 1974 and you described how things were in those days very well. I am sorry that you were treated badly by some of the nurses, though it sounds like most came to respect you (I already read Part 2).

I was always of the opinion that the best thing that could happen to the nursing profession was if more men became nurses because I thought that would help lessen the stigma of nursing being "women's work" and would also help raise the overall salaries in the profession. That being said, male nurses did face bigotry, especially if they were young and unmarried but it seemed that by the 1990's things were getting better in that respect, not perfect but better.

I would have expected to see more males entering the nursing profession in today's tough economic times because nursing wages have risen, the job forecast for nurses is good and it's one of the few professions where an associate's degree can allow entry into the profession, but unfortunately I don't think the percentage of males in nursing is rising.

Thanks for sharing your personal experiences.


d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

http://hubpages.com/@happyboomernurse

Thanks for reading and commenting. When i went to nursing school, there were 7 males that started with me. 3 of us graduated. The other 5 were forced to drop out due to social pressures on them. One of the 3 that graduated ended up being a manager at a fast food place because he was "labeled" by his peers in the small bigoted town that he was from, just by virtue of being a "male" nurse. The other two of us that graduated left the area and moved on to communities that did not know us, but still regarded male nurses as "odd" and "different" and "unmanly" or just plain "they must be gay".

That ignorance is still prevalent today as we can witness almost every day by the news broadcasts of gay teens committing suicide, the right wing conservative religious fanatics picketing funerals of gay soldiers, the political scandals of politicians who were literally "caught with their pants down", and clergymen who preach hatred of gays then being caught having illicit affairs with gay prostitutes, the controversy regarding same sex marriages, and so on..

Throughout my working years, i flatly refused to discuss anything about my private life with anyone associated with my jobs. This only added to the mystique of who i really was, but still maintained my belief that your job and your private life should not be one and the same. And most of the time there was respect for privacy for those who did not care to discuss their private lives, or sex lives with other people, however, the fact still remains that if anyone (male or female) chooses not to marry and have children they are automatically stigmatized by society as abnormal. People have this innate need to pass judgment on others who don't mirror their own set of standards, and i still find this repugnant. A person should NEVER be judged by their politics, religion, skin color, nationality, or who they choose as their life partner.


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 5 years ago from South Carolina

I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence and am saddened by the pressure that was put on the male nurses you knew and also yourself. The only thing that should matter is whether a nurse is competent to provide care and how the nurse treats patients. A nurse's personal life should be irrelevant.

I am glad you are writing about your experiences because they are far worse than I would have expected and may help female nurses who are not prejudiced understand that they need to speak out if they witness gossip or bullying behavior toward their male colleagues.


d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

http://hubpages.com/@happyboomernurse

Thank you again for commenting. Perhaps MY experiences were less common in other parts of the country. My original nursing experiences were in New England, and then in south Florida and ultimately in north Florida. Sometimes i think i was just drawn to the most bigoted areas by design. I do hope those new nurses of today do not encounter that kind of disparaging bigotry.


time2rite profile image

time2rite 5 years ago from Navarre, Fl, USA

Love the line where you shrugged your shoulders "...and attributed it to the ignorance of the person spewing those words out of a mouth that was obviously connected to a narrow minded brain." How true this is in so many situations! I appreciate your candor and honesty in sharing your story and bravo for you not letting smaller people get the best of you!


d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

http://hubpages.com/@time2rite

Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting. Being in a profession that has controversy inherently built into it, one has to expect this kind of ignorance. Times have not changed much. Even before i retired, there were times of discomfort when people made snide comments referencing the sexuality of "male" nurses. But, what can one expect when we have generations of ignorant religious teachings brainwashed into the minds of children?


time2rite 5 years ago

Ha! I guess I'm an exception, but I find that ignorance is no excuse for plain rudeness! Male nursing aside, it's no one's business your private life outside the hospital setting. You handled yourself not only professionally, but very dignified and patient in the face of ignorance. Again, bravo to you!


U.S Citizen 4 years ago

The youngest male nurse is: Malik A. King, LVN, RN, BSN, PHN. He has been licensed as a vocational nurse (LVN/LPN) since 19 years of age and a Registered Nurse (RN) since age 23.


d.william profile image

d.william 3 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

U.S Citizen:

Thank you so much for reading and taking time to leave a comment. And thank you for the info about the youngest nurse in history - very interesting indeed.


Christy 2 years ago

My husband is a nurse. I don't call him a male nurse nor have I ever. I assume when I tell people my husband is a nurse, they understand he is a man. He is a combat veteran who was a medic overseas and loved the job so much he came home and went to nursing school. Still today, he has encountered issues. He has been assumed to be gay and hit on by other men. He has had women refuse to let him take care of them. At his last job, he applied for a promotion each time one came up and he never got it. He was there 5 years and called in three times (once was to have surgery) and worked extra shifts all the time. At one interview he was asked, "So I know you pick your son up from school each day. How will that work if you get this promotion and work different hours?" They never would have asked a mother that question because you can't question a working mother's ability to care for her child. They ended up giving the position to a single mother with three kids.

I love the fact he is a nurse for many reasons. One is honestly because I hate puke and he cleans up when the kids get sick. :) Two is because he looks so dang hot in those drab scrubs!


d.william profile image

d.william 2 years ago from Somewhere in the south Author

Christy:

Thanks for reading and leaving your wonderful comments.

It does not matter whether a "male" who is a nurse, is gay or straight, we are all looked at with skepticism by the ignorant narrow minded people who have nothing better to do than make judgments on others.

Stereotyping is part of the conservative ignorance mentality in our society, and seems to becoming worse in stead of better. Which just goes to show that our eduction system is lacking in reality, common sense and critical thinking skills.

I lived with that ignorant stereotyping for over 40 years of my nursing career. I never divulged my "sexual identity" to anyone who had the audacity to ask. And was not timid about telling them that what my personal life consists of is none of their business, so if they forgive me for not answering, i will forgive them for asking such a foolish question.

I certainly was never effeminate acting, and my work was never about "social" acceptance.

Even today i will counter any ignorance i encounter with common sense and gracefully telling those who hate that they are the ones who need the pity of others, not those they attack.

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