Sexism in Nursing

MightyMale4Unfortunately, discrimination reverberates throughout most social institutions.

And sadly, nursing isn’t an exception to the rule.

In healthcare facilities, traditional gender roles are magnified due to its patriarchal heritage.

Traditionally, nurses were female and physicians male.

And thus, nurses have been historically subservient to male physicians, just like women were mostly subservient in 1950’s America.

Luckily, this pattern is starting to change; however, discrimination against nurses, both male and female, still exists.

And in fact, socially speaking, in terms of gender equality, modern nursing hasn’t progressed at the same rate as general society.

First, let’s talk about minority nurses.  Unlike most nurses, I’m male, a minority within the nursing community.  According to Minority Nurse Magazine, these are the facts:

  • There are 2,909,357 licensed Registered Nurses in the United States.
  • Approximately 168,181 RNs are men – only 5.8% of the total nursing population.
  • Only 8.0% of all RNs are under the age of 30. The average age of the RN population in the United States is 46.8 years.
  • 30.1% of male RNs are under 40 compared with 26.1% of female RNs.
  • 65.7 percent of male RNs are under the age of 50, compared with 57.4% of female RNs.

As a minority nurse, I’ve experienced discrimination by my instructors, colleagues, and patients.

However, for this short essay, I can only give you a few examples.  Instead of mulling over every incident, I’ll focus my attention to my experience in nursing school.


In nursing school, I was different than my female counterparts.

I was more aggressive, fiery, and straight forward.

I wasn’t passive-aggressive; if there was a problem, I confronted it and directly challenged my nursing instructors and the university’s nursing program.

During my third semester, I was fervently called upon, called out, often with the intent to humiliate and embarrass.

In fact, I was compelled to visit Human Resources and file a formal complaint against an instructor I perceived as sexist.  And, as you can imagine, the rest of the semester was awkward to say the least.

I also became a vocal critic of the Student Nursing Organization (SNO) and their arcane and atavistic nursing traditions which are, as tradition dictates, matriarchal.

As a male, I don’t want to wear pink t-shirts and receive roses at graduation, I want something gender neutral, I want to feel like a part of the group, not an outsider.

However SNO, my nemesis, ignored my suggestions, and insisted on feminine tradition.

“As professionals, if we want respect, we must demand it.”

Furthermore, I wanted the option to experience an OB clinical free from the fear that I wouldn’t be able to truly participate due to the fact that male nurses may make some female patients uncomfortable, even when their physicians are male.

It isn’t so much that the university blatantly banned us from partaking in OB clinical, but our instructors didn’t push and advocate for our involvement either.

They wanted us to learn about OB in a classroom setting, yet at the same time they knew we’d likely never be able to fully participate, denying us the same educational opportunity as our female nursing classmates.

If nursing wishes to progress and evolve into a forward thinking profession, male and female nurses must work together to change and expand traditional gender roles.

In my experience, most female nurses seldom attack the patriarchal system set in place by tradition.

We’re professional nurses, not secretaries, gophers, martyrs or servants to the false Gods of the Golden Rod of Asclepius.

As professionals, if we want respect, we must demand it.

And we must change, altering traditions or even eradicating some of them because they’re outdated and now culturally irrelevant.

I understand the importance of tradition, but as a society, we’re changing.

And the old modes of thinking must be extinguished and forgotten if we’re to grow and move from skilled laborers to professional nurses.


    • Note from Mighty Nurse – We encourage open and honest discussion of all aspects of nursing career and lifestyle. Let us know what you think about this issue, or submit your own story.

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