Journal of Nursing Education

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BRIEFS 

Research on Males in Nursing

Shirley Davis-Martin, RN, PhD

Abstract

Nursing has traditionally been a female profession. Indeed, personality profiles of nurses in general gave a marked traditional female picture - dependent, succorant, high in religious orientation, advocators of the status quo, more interest in serving than in economic gains, and highly oriented to being submissive to those in authority. But the compilers of those personality trait findings concluded their 1972 report with the statement that they expected the profile of nurses to change in the coming years (Muklenkamp and Parsons, 1972, p. 273). One of the forces that will and is now contributing to a change, is the increase in the number of male nurses.

Male nurses continue to be a minority in nursing, less than 2% at present. However, that is an increase of 100% over the figure of 1% approximately 10 or 15 years ago. What is happening in nursing is being duplicated in other occupations as the increased latitude of roles and opportunities for both men and women has seen each sex entering fields traditionally reserved for a single sex.

Literature on men in nursing remains of small quantity, but it is increasing as the numbers of male nurses continue to grow. As more men enter the field their particular needs and influence will be felt in all areas of the profession. The purpose of this research review is to examine some of the personality characteristics of men who choose nursing and the reasons for that choice. This may help to anticipate some of the changes that will evolve in nursing as a result of the profession not being totally female dominated. Let us examine now some of the recent studies.

Vaz (1968) investigated the prevailing attitudes towards nursing as a male occupation in an attempt to delineate attitudes and conditions which might tend to act as deterrents in the selection of nursing by men. Her subjects were 506 senior boys in six public high schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A questionnaire was administered which consisted of an attitude scale and a checklist. The researcher concluded that the boys studied viewed nursing as the least suitable occupation for men since that violates sex roles in vocational choice. The boys in the study typically viewed nurses as having a high interest in people, moderate leadership, but low in intelligence and ambition.

Since a male nurse does challenge traditional role identities, a relevant question is, "Why do men choose nursing and would they choose it again?" Several studies have explored this area. Chief among them are those by Mannino (1963) and by Bush (1976).

Mannino'e subjects were 36 male nursing students and 480 male graduates. Analysis of their questionnaire answers revealed: 1. the most frequently cited reason for choosing nursing was "Because I like people and enjoy helping them" (p. 186); 2. nursing was a substitute for their real desire to pursue medicine - a financially impossible goal; 3. most of the men would recommend nursing as a career to another male. Mannino found that the entering age of men into nursing and their prior educational level were higher than that of their female counterparts. Most respondents had some previous health-related experience and also a previous occupation. Eighty percent remain in nursing or a health-related field. In addition, male nurses support professional organizations to a greater degree than female nurses, as evidenced by increased subscriptions to professional journals and increased membership in professional organizations. Most showed upward social mobility as compared to their parents who were primarily from the lower middle income groups.

Bush (1976) interviewed ten males in nursing at a Midwestern university - six students…

Nursing has traditionally been a female profession. Indeed, personality profiles of nurses in general gave a marked traditional female picture - dependent, succorant, high in religious orientation, advocators of the status quo, more interest in serving than in economic gains, and highly oriented to being submissive to those in authority. But the compilers of those personality trait findings concluded their 1972 report with the statement that they expected the profile of nurses to change in the coming years (Muklenkamp and Parsons, 1972, p. 273). One of the forces that will and is now contributing to a change, is the increase in the number of male nurses.

Male nurses continue to be a minority in nursing, less than 2% at present. However, that is an increase of 100% over the figure of 1% approximately 10 or 15 years ago. What is happening in nursing is being duplicated in other occupations as the increased latitude of roles and opportunities for both men and women has seen each sex entering fields traditionally reserved for a single sex.

Literature on men in nursing remains of small quantity, but it is increasing as the numbers of male nurses continue to grow. As more men enter the field their particular needs and influence will be felt in all areas of the profession. The purpose of this research review is to examine some of the personality characteristics of men who choose nursing and the reasons for that choice. This may help to anticipate some of the changes that will evolve in nursing as a result of the profession not being totally female dominated. Let us examine now some of the recent studies.

Vaz (1968) investigated the prevailing attitudes towards nursing as a male occupation in an attempt to delineate attitudes and conditions which might tend to act as deterrents in the selection of nursing by men. Her subjects were 506 senior boys in six public high schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A questionnaire was administered which consisted of an attitude scale and a checklist. The researcher concluded that the boys studied viewed nursing as the least suitable occupation for men since that violates sex roles in vocational choice. The boys in the study typically viewed nurses as having a high interest in people, moderate leadership, but low in intelligence and ambition.

Since a male nurse does challenge traditional role identities, a relevant question is, "Why do men choose nursing and would they choose it again?" Several studies have explored this area. Chief among them are those by Mannino (1963) and by Bush (1976).

Mannino'e subjects were 36 male nursing students and 480 male graduates. Analysis of their questionnaire answers revealed: 1. the most frequently cited reason for choosing nursing was "Because I like people and enjoy helping them" (p. 186); 2. nursing was a substitute for their real desire to pursue medicine - a financially impossible goal; 3. most of the men would recommend nursing as a career to another male. Mannino found that the entering age of men into nursing and their prior educational level were higher than that of their female counterparts. Most respondents had some previous health-related experience and also a previous occupation. Eighty percent remain in nursing or a health-related field. In addition, male nurses support professional organizations to a greater degree than female nurses, as evidenced by increased subscriptions to professional journals and increased membership in professional organizations. Most showed upward social mobility as compared to their parents who were primarily from the lower middle income groups.

Bush (1976) interviewed ten males in nursing at a Midwestern university - six students and four graduates. Though this sample is quite small, his subjects were very similar to those reported by Mannino. His interviewees reported some initial resistance to their decision to become a nurse from their families, especially their fathers. But this developed into pride and support when the son began to actively pursue his choice. The subjects developed coping skills to deal with reactions to their status and accordingly selected nursing specialties where role conflict was decreased, such as urology and psychiatry, while avoiding pediatrics and obstetrics. The reasons quoted most often for choosing nursing were job security and opportunity, interest in the biological sciences, and a desire to work in a humanistic field. These men viewed themselves as innovators or pioneers and felt their sex was an advantage since others expect them to be leaders.

Since the personality pattern of female nurses seems to be rather well documented, we can logically ask, "What are the personality correlates of male nurses?" A number of investigators have looked at this question. Aldag and others (1967, 1970) have reported on this at least twice in the literature. One study looked at the occupational and non-occupational interest characteristics of male nurses. Subjects were 145 male nursing students in five nursing schools. These were compared with 145 female nursing students, 145 female college students and 145 male college students. The Strong Vocational Interest Blank was administered to all subjects, testing the hypothesis that the interests of male nursing students were primarily vocational rather than sex linked. Comparisons with the other three groups of students showed this to be true. Additionally, males in nursing were shown to have increased interests in vocations characterized as feminine when compared to male college students in general.

A study by Aldag and Christensen (1967) revealed similar findings. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was administered to 116 hospital and junior college program students - 29 male nursing students, 29 female nursing students, 29 female college students and 29 male college students. The personality profile of male nursing students was more similar to that of female nursing students than to the profiles of male college students or to the profiles of female college students. Both male and female nursing students had a more "feminine" profile than did male and female non-nursing students. Nursing students were more likely to appear as responsible, generous individuals than were junior college students in this study. They also were more often passive-dependent than were the college students.

The study conducted by Gumley, et al. (1979) on 91 British Royal Air Force male nurses revealed similar findings. A battery of three tests was administered and the results were correlated with those of nonmilitary male nurses and with servicemen of a similar age. The data showed that male nurses were less extroverted than servicemen as a whole and more stable than the other study groups. In addition, data supported two currently popular views of males in nursing: 1. they tend to prefer more technical or administrative aspects of nursing and 2. they exhibit an unusually high degree of what are thought of as female personality traits.

Thirty-two colleges and universities in 13 western states were the source of 273 male baccalaureate nursing students for the study conducted by Williams (1973). His questionnaire revealed that half the male nursing students transferred into nursing from another major because they saw nursing as an opportunity to help people. Seventy-five percent felt it was important to get ahead in life and wanted a high occupational mobility. The respondents expressed a preference for the specialty areas in nursing, such as coronary and intensive care, surgery, and education. These choices suggest high status orientation and increased monetary reward. In addition, they require great technical competence and entail much responsibility. Ninety percent felt the number of male nurses would increase, and they would recommend it as a profession and choose it again themselves.

Since males were shown in one study to have an increased commitment to the professional aspects of nursing, one might wonder if there is a difference in the attitudes of males and females towards the nursing education that prepares them to pursue the career of their choice. Auster (1979) studied 335 male and 508 female nursing students at 32 degree-granting institutions in the East and Midwest. Using a combination fixed and open-ended questionnaire and personal interviews with 80 male students, he found distinctive preferences along sex-typed interests and values in student evaluation of the nursing education process. These reflect distinctive social patterns of males and females acquired in our society. Both males and females felt nursing school was harder for males. These findings led Auster to hypothesize that men are not likely to staff the nursing profession in the same way as females. Their interests and orientation are toward a "professionalizer" rather than a "traditionalizer" or "utilizer" type of nursing role. Males feel professionalism relies on acquired knowledge, accumulated technical competence, and a "limited partnership" rather than a servant relationship with the physician in providing health care.

Garvin (1976) administered the AllportVernon-Lindzey Study of Values to 34 male nursing students and 841 female nursing students. His findings showed males higher on the theoretical scale and lower on the religious scale than women. Again the values of male nursing students were more like female nursing students than male college students. Male nursing students also had high socialization scores. These findings suggest that more men in nursing will conceivably change the complexion and thrust of nursing.

In separate investigations, Auster (1979) found, as did Greenberg and Levine (1971), that role strain in male nurses was very real, since nursing is a status contradictory occupation for men. Greenberg and Levine interviewed fifteen male registered nurses and found that they coped with the role strain, as Bush (1976) had also reported, by choosing areas of specialization that minimized it, namely psychiatry, urology and administration.

Schoenmaker and Radosevich (1976) attempted to identify special problems of male nursing students. Through a questionnaire given to 33 male and 58 female nursing students, they found that males in nursing have experienced some of the problems that have long plagued minority groups. But the study also revealed some emancipating trends among males who enter the nursing profession. The typically female authority was a status contradiction with which men had to deal, as well as some community prejudice. Men have greater anticipation for the technical functions of nursing and a preference for critical and acute care, though there was an absence of traditional preferences for administration and anesthesiology. They Usted academic difficulties as being of high priority, particularly since they perceived it differed from what they considered germane to nursing practice.

Men are not usually seen as care-givers, with a high level of empathy. But Macdonald (1977) administered Hogan's Empathy Scale to 15 male and 15 female nursing students, and to 15 male and 15 female nonnursing college students. Male nursing students were found to have the highest empathy rate of all groups, while male nonnursing students had the lowest. This verifies other findings reported in this review that male nurses are uniquely different from their male peers.

A final question of interest pinpointed by the literature is the attitude of female nurses towards male nurses. Fottler (1976) studied this question through the administration of a ten-item attitudinal scale to 126 female nurses in western New York State. The conclusions of his study are that the majority of female nurses have a positive attitude toward male nurses. They also feel men should be encouraged to enter nursing. They view sex as an irrelevant variable in the practice of nursing. They did express concern that employers might exhibit favoritism toward males. Older nurses and those with increased contact with men nurees had the most positive attitudes.

The findings of these various studies show that the male influence in nursing is growing, and that much of what men can offer to nursing is good. It is hypothesized that one of the reasons nursing has been a low-prestige, low-power profession for so long is that the typical nurse has not been assertive enough to lead or support real innovations. Perhaps males wiU assist in this venture as they bring increased commitment and new personality characteristics into nursing. It would be interesting to rephcate some of the studies in this review. Perhaps the male nurse himself wiU undergo some personality changes, as have female nurses, especially in the last 30 years. Resistance to male nurses is stiU seen among physicians and also some female nurses. Changes occur slowly, but the groundwork has been laid.

References

  • Aldag, J.C. (1970). Occupational and non-occupational interest characteristics of male nurses. Nursing Research, 19, 529-534.
  • Aldag, J.C, & Christensen, C. (1967). Personality correlates of male nurses. Nursing Research, 16, 375-376.
  • Auster, D. (1979). Sex differences in attitudes toward nursing education. Journal of Nursing Education, 18, 19-28.
  • Bush, P.J. (1976). The male nurse: A challenge to traditional role identities. Nursing Forum, 15(4), 390-405.
  • Fottler, M.D. (June 1976). Attitudes of female nurses towards male nurses: A study of occupational segregation. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 17(6), 98-110.
  • Garvin, B.J. (1976). Values of male nursing students. Nursing Research, 25, 352-357.
  • Greenberg, E., & Levine, B. (1971). Role strain in male nurses. Nursing Fbrum, 10, 416-430.
  • Gumley, C.J.G., McKenzie, J, Omerod, N.B., & Keys, W. (July 1979). Personality correlations in a sample of male nurses in the British Royal Air Force. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 4, 355-364.
  • MacDonald, M.R. (June 1977). How do male and female students rate on empathy? American Journal of Nursing, 77, 998.
  • Mannino, S. (1963). The professional man nurse: Why he chose nursing and other characteristics of men in nursing. Nursing Research, 12, 185-188.
  • Muklenkamp, A, & Parsons, J. (1972). Characteristics of nurses: An overview of recent research publications in a nursing research periodical. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2, 261-273.
  • Schoenmaker, A, & Radosevich, D. (May 1976). Male nursing students: How they perceive their situation . . . Conflict between expectations and reality. Nursing Outlook, 24, 298-303.
  • Williams, R.A. (1973). Characteristics of male baccalaureate students who selected nursing as a career. Nursing Research, 22(6), 520-525.
  • Vaz, D. (1968). High school senior boye' attitudes toward nursing as a career. Nursing Research, 17, 533-538.

10.3928/0148-4834-19840401-10

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