Journal of Nursing Education

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Research Briefs 

Exploring Male Students’ Educational Experiences in an Associate Degree Nursing Program

Janet A. Ierardi, MSN, RNC; Dinine A. Fitzgerald, MSN, RN; Danielle T. Holland, MSN, RN

Abstract

This study explored male students’ educational experiences in an associate degree nursing program. A review of the literature identified a gap in the understanding of the experiences of male students in nursing school. Because nursing is a profession strongly influenced by societal stereotypes, gender bias, and the preponderance of female role models, this qualitative study examined the perceptions of men seeking careers in nursing. Interviews with male students probed topics such as the reasons men chose nursing as a career, their positive and negative experiences, and their satisfaction with their nursing education. This research enhanced understanding and promoted nursing knowledge of the unique needs of men in nursing education.

Abstract

This study explored male students’ educational experiences in an associate degree nursing program. A review of the literature identified a gap in the understanding of the experiences of male students in nursing school. Because nursing is a profession strongly influenced by societal stereotypes, gender bias, and the preponderance of female role models, this qualitative study examined the perceptions of men seeking careers in nursing. Interviews with male students probed topics such as the reasons men chose nursing as a career, their positive and negative experiences, and their satisfaction with their nursing education. This research enhanced understanding and promoted nursing knowledge of the unique needs of men in nursing education.

Ms. Ierardi is Clinical Instructor, Lawrence Memorial/Regis College, Medford, and Staff Nurse, Mother-Baby Unit, Winchester Hospital, Winchester, Massachusetts; Ms. Fitzgerald is Clinical Instructor, First Choice Training Institute, Salem, New Hampshire; and Ms. Holland is Clinical Faculty, Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Critical Care Nurse, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

The authors have no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.

The authors thank Dr. Kathleen Beyerman, Director of Clinical Nursing Research at Winchester Hospital, Winchester, Massachusetts, for her guidance and insight; Debora Kennedy, MSN, RN, for her contributions in conducting the study; and Drs. Skrabut, Anderson, Schultz, and McGovern, Salem State College, Salem, Massachusetts, for their expertise in the nursing research process.

Address correspondence to Janet Ierardi, MSN, RNC; jaierardi@comcast.net.

Received: November 10, 2008
Accepted: March 04, 2009
Posted Online: April 07, 2010

Where are all the men? Why don’t they join us in nursing? The nursing profession currently is experiencing a personnel shortage. Despite this, men comprise a relatively small percentage of the nursing workforce (Brady & Sherrod, 2003; Fenkl, 2006; Gerencher, 2002). According to Buerhaus (2008): Of the estimated 2.24 million RNs in the nursing workforce in 2006, 200,000 were men (8%)” (p. 2424).

To alleviate the nursing shortage, nursing must recruit and retain more men and change the stereotypes involving male nurses.

Men entering nursing schools face many challenges. They must cope with social isolation, gender stereotypes, ineffective teaching strategies for men, unequal clinical opportunities, conflicting instruction on the use of human touch, and a lack of male mentors and preceptors (Anthony, 2004; O’Lynn, 2004). Some men entering nursing school feel nursing education is geared toward women (Anthony, 2006; Ellis, Juvé Meeker, & Hyde, 2006; O’Lynn, 2004). Men in nursing continue to be stereotyped, and the feminization of the profession limits their full participation (Evans, 2004; Fenkl, 2006).

According to traditional societal stereotypes, men have been viewed as less caring individuals. Characteristics traditionally attributed to women include caring, compassion, and nurturing.

MacDougall (1997) contended:

It is not unreasonable to suggest that men have tended to suppress their caring instincts in order to maintain their traditional masculine roles

O’Lynn (2004) stated:

unlike during previous shortages, the profession can no longer rely on an unlimited supply of women to become nurses…nursing recruitment is increasingly directed toward individuals from ethnic minorities and men to help fill the profession’s present and future vacancies.

The purpose of this study was to explore men’s perceptions of their educational experiences in an associate degree nursing program. This study explored the following research question: “What are the educational experiences of male students in an associate degree nursing program?” The results of the study may provide nursing schools with valuable information to help them recruit and retain male students.

Method

The study used qualitative descriptive research methods. Ellis et al. (2006) examined men’s perceived educational experiences in a baccalaureate degree program, whereas participants in this study were enrolled in an associate degree program. A semistructured interview guide, used with permission from the Ellis et al. (2006) study, served as the instrument. The interview guide contained 12 open-ended questions.

Sample

The sample consisted of 7 male students enrolled in an associate degree nursing program in a northeastern Massachusetts hospital-based collaborative college program. Participants were male nursing students enrolled in their third nursing course. Their ages ranged from 23 to 47. Five were married; 2 were single. Four held previous degrees. Six were White and 1 was Black.

Procedure

Before conducting interviews, institutional review board approval was obtained from the school of nursing the participants attended, as well as from the college where the authors were enrolled as graduate students. Participation in the study was voluntary, and confidentiality was assured. Potential participants were contacted in person by one of the researchers. Written consent was obtained from each participant. Face-to-face interviews were conducted at the school of nursing. A tape recorder and field notes were used to verify the accuracy of information.

The interview guide was used to keep the interviewer focused and ensure consistency when questioning the participants. The focus of the topics included reasons for choosing nursing as a career; positive and negative experiences in the classroom and clinical settings; and feelings about being a man in the nursing profession. If a participant chose not to respond to a question or questions, the interview proceeded and the remaining questions were asked. Unanswered questions are acknowledged in the data analysis.

Data Analysis

Data analysis methods included tape-recorded interviews that were transcribed verbatim and reviewed multiple times to identify redundant ideas and achieve saturation.

According to Polit and Beck (2004):

The analysis of qualitative data is an active and interactive process, especially at the interpretative end of the analysis style continuum. Qualitative researchers typically scrutinize their data carefully and deliberatively, often reading the data over and over again in a search for meaning and deeper understanding. Insights and theories can not emerge until researchers become completely familiar with their data.

Morse and Field (1995) described qualitative analysis as a:

process of fitting data together, of making the invisible obvious, of linking and attributing consequences to antecedents. It is a process of conjecture and verification, of correction and modification, of suggestion and defense.

Results

Four themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews:

  • Wanting to care for others.
  • Leaving another career or vocation to pursue nursing.
  • Having a positive experience in the nursing program.
  • Being mistaken for physicians.

Wanting to care for others was the first theme identified. Caring was indeed a motivation for men to pursue nursing as a career. Previous literature suggested men’s caring behaviors often were misperceived as expressions of sexual behavior. The literature review revealed the idea that “caring is not feminine—it’s universal” (MedZilla.com, 2002, ¶9). This statement is supported by one study participant’s comment:

I think now that they realized that men can do it…it’s not a sex that’s doing the nursing, it’s the person.

The following comments were made by other participants:

actually sitting beside the patient, understanding who they are as a human being, managing that care, understanding and observing their reactions to the care.

Another participant stated:

Something that I enjoy is helping people, as much as a cliché as it sounds, but I really enjoy seeing that I can make a difference in someone’s life. The time of 9/11 made me think of nursing. I just knew that they [nurses] were making a difference, and I just saw the compassion, just how important a nurse was in helping those people.

Leaving another career or vocation to pursue nursing was the second theme identified. All of the participants entered the nursing program from a previous career. Opportunity for advancement and achievement of a long-term goal were among the reasons why participants chose to enter nursing. Men tend to be attracted to high acuity and leadership positions in nursing.

Williams (1992) contended that men:

were found to be concentrated in positions of higher salary, more prestige, and higher authority than women within the profession.

The literature revealed that men choose nursing “because nursing can offer stable employment with reasonable wages in an otherwise unstable economy” (O’Lynn, 2004, p. 230). Participants’ comments were:

Software engineering in the United States is being ever increasingly outsourced and down-sized. The career prospects for a software engineer are not what they were.

Another participant stated:

I went for graphic design, got into that, didn’t like it, I left and then I had quite a few jobs in the process of finding what I wanted to do. I got into the EMT/Paramedic program and I liked doing that and then I decided that I wanted to go into nursing.

Male students find nursing education challenging, interesting, and satisfying (Okrainec, 1994). Having a positive experience in the nursing program was the third theme identified. Variations among participants’ responses regarding positive and negative experiences in their nursing program were remarkable. One of the most common responses regarding positives in the program was the teaching style of the instructor. One participant believed the new knowledge he gained in the classroom contributed to his positive experience:

I would say just coming in every day…knowing something more than you did the previous day. I think that’s the positive aspect. I like knowing more…. You’re a student for life. Every day you learn something new.

Another participant said he found satisfaction in:

being able to actually see and have hands-on knowledge that what I did, my interaction, participation, insight, feedback, or teaching made a difference to that person.

In the clinical setting, the participants noted the clinical instructor had a positive influence. One participant stated:

I had a wonderful instructor who didn’t neglect me from any experience from day one. It was like she was confident in me. I was confident in myself and that reflected onto my patients. You know, it comes down to being educated and confident.

The fourth and final theme was participants’ reaction to being mistaken for physicians when wearing their lab coats. Participants were surprised they were “misidentified as physicians” when they were seen wearing white lab coats in the clinical setting. Societal stereotypes have feminized the nursing profession and marginalized the role of men. Fenkl (2006) describes that “the power struggle between medicine and nursing may be to blame for this stereotyping” more than society (p. 40).

One participant noted:

People generally just assume like men are of a higher status…. There have been so many times where I have worn a lab coat and they never said “Oh, are you a nursing student?” It’s always “Are you an intern or a doctor?”

Limitations

This research was limited by the small size of the study, a lack of comparison with other schools of nursing, a single geographical location, and the fact that the only interviewer was a woman. Questions from a male interviewer might have elicited different responses. Different opinions might have been obtained from men in other geographic areas of the country. A larger sample with a more diverse demographic background would enrich the research by enhancing its generalizability.

Discussion

This study supports, as well as challenges, the work of previous studies. Within this group of men, gender issues with regard to nursing are not as prevalent as the literature review had suggested. The two gender issues noted by these men were that they were mistaken for physicians and that the pronoun “she” often is used in reference to nurses.

All participants in this study had left established careers to enter the nursing profession. Participants were open and honest in expressing why they wanted to become members of a profession still dominated by women. The men clearly expressed their need to care for others.

Anthony (2006) noted:

learning to demonstrate professional caring can be a trial, for men who have been socialized to limit visible expressions of emotion and to use touch carefully for fear of implying sexual overtones. Unlike women, who are likely to display caring behaviors through touch and open expression of emotion, men must learn ways to demonstrate their caring.

Participants did not express anxiety or concern for demonstrating professional caring behaviors. They were eager to explain how they wished to care for others. They described the hard work of being nursing students but were eager to become practicing nurses. The strength of their commitment to nursing is supported by the fact that they all left previous careers to pursue nursing. These men did not express a great deal of concern for challenges mentioned in the literature. As evidenced by their complimentary statements about their relationships with instructors, many of these men were positive about their nursing program experiences.

Recommendations

It would benefit schools of nursing to understand the unique needs of male students. Recommendations for future research are:

  • To compare nursing programs from various regions.
  • To compare male with female students.
  • To study gender differences between associate and baccalaureate degree levels.

A modified approach to the research design would be to conduct a longitudinal study to assess men’s perceptions after entering the nursing workforce.

Conclusion

The original purpose of the study was to focus on the educational experiences of male nursing students, but the research revealed more about their feelings about nursing. The study supports the premise that men are caring individuals. Efforts should be made to portray men more positively in this profession. All study participants decided to change their career paths based on their desire to care for others. As one participant noted:

I just felt that something was missing. I definitely wanted to have more contact with people…I like helping people.

Ideally, these findings will lead to changes in the education of male nursing students in both the classroom and clinical settings. Nursing would benefit from adopting strategies to attract and educate men. Men may be the answer to the current shortage, and nursing should welcome them to the community of caring.

References

  • Anthony, A.S. (2004). Gender bias and discrimination in nursing education: Can we change it?Nurse Educator, 29, 121–125. doi:10.1097/00006223-200405000-00011 [CrossRef]
  • Anthony, A.S. (2006, August). Tear down the barriers of gender bias. Men in Nursing, 1(4), 43–49.
  • Boughn, S. (2001). Why women and men choose nursing. Nursing & Health Care Perspectives, 22, 14–19.
  • Brady, M.S. & Sherrod, D.R. (2003). Retaining men in nursing programs designed for women. Journal of Nursing Education, 42, 159–162.
  • Buerhaus, P.I. (2008). Current and future state of the U.S. nursing workforce. Journal of the American Medical Association, 200, 2422–2424. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.729 [CrossRef]
  • Ellis, D.M., Juvé Meeker, B. & Hyde, B.L. (2006). Exploring men’s perceived educational experiences in a baccalaureate program. Journal of Nursing Education, 45, 523–526.
  • Evans, J.A. (2004). Men nurses: A historical and feminist perspective. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 47, 321–328. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2004.03096.x [CrossRef]
  • Fenkl, E.A. (2006, December). Where are all the men?Men in Nursing, 1(6), 37–41.
  • Gerencher, K. (2002). Men in white: Nursing field recruiting males with big opportunities. Retrieved from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nursing-field-woos-men-with-high-pay-job-opportunities?dist=msr_10
  • MacDougall, G. (1997). Caring—A masculine perspective. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 25, 809–813. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1997.1997025809.x [CrossRef]
  • MedZilla.com. (2002). Why are there so few male nurses? Retrieved from http://www.medzilla.com/press61102.html
  • Morse, J.M. & Field, P.A. (1995). Qualitative research methods for health professionals. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Okrainec, G.D. (1994). Perceptions of nursing held by male nursing students. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 16, 94–107. doi:10.1177/019394599401600108 [CrossRef]
  • O’Lynn, C.E. (2004). Gender-based barriers for male students in nursing education programs: Prevalence and perceived importance. Journal of Nursing Education, 43, 229–236.
  • Polit, D.F. & Beck, C.T. (2004). Nursing research: Principles and methods (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Authors

Ms. Ierardi is Clinical Instructor, Lawrence Memorial/Regis College, Medford, and Staff Nurse, Mother-Baby Unit, Winchester Hospital, Winchester, Massachusetts; Ms. Fitzgerald is Clinical Instructor, First Choice Training Institute, Salem, New Hampshire; and Ms. Holland is Clinical Faculty, Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Critical Care Nurse, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

The authors have no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.

Address correspondence to Janet Ierardi, MSN, RNC; .jaierardi@comcast.net

10.3928/01484834-20091217-04

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