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My Life As a Male Nurse. Encountering staff bigotry.
Harmony in Nature - Missing in Mankind
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).
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).
- Is Ignorance Bliss? | Psychology Today
To know or not to know; that is the question. By Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D. ...
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.
"can I help you?"
"are you (d.william)?"
"yes, how can i help you?".
"I am Bonnie's husband".
"So, how can i help you?".
"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".
"what in hell does that mean?"
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.
- My Life As A Male Nurse. Fighting Prejudices with Laughter.
Nursing as a profession for males. Have things really improved? The medical profession needs to grow with dignity and pride. And always keep in mind that Laughter is the best medicine.
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.
"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