October 31, 2020

Beyond Physical Isolation, Men in Nursing Can Experience Longing for Camaraderie

Several years ago, I undertook a career transition from life science research to nursing. Although I graduated from an accelerated baccalaureate program, the change actually took place over many years. In fact, I look back on those years as a period of growth through dramatic transformation. But transformation from what to what? Am I not still the same man, having traded a white lab coat for scrubs?

In truth, I am the same man, but my working environment is now significantly different from what it was a few short years ago. Given the realities of the field of nursing for men, I do sometimes long for the camaraderie that could exist if there were more like-minded men in nursing. The basic science workforce, as I experienced it, was quite diverse, being approximately half men. Racial and ethnic diversity was also significantly greater than it is in nursing, as I recall.

One of the dominant themes I notice in the accounts of some men in nursing of their careers is that of isolation: from their fellow nursing students, from their coworkers, from other men, sometimes from their career goals. Some of this isolation is a predictable outgrowth of the lopsided gender distribution of nurses, with fewer than 10% being male. In some contexts, there simply aren’t enough men in the workplace for them to encounter each other professionally with much regularity.

Beyond this physical isolation lie other forms of isolation. Some men report gender-based bias and discrimination during nursing school and in professional life, which can be manifest in many different ways. Unfortunately, some of this bias and discrimination can come from patients and their families as well.

I’ve lived through my share of isolation in nursing, although I did attend nursing school within a cohort that included more than 25% men. Given the focus of much of the literature on the isolation of men in nursing, one might conclude that I was spared much. However, I would say I was no less isolated than some who have experienced greater physical isolation. How can that be?

When nursing educators and other leaders oversimplify the experience of men as a minority in nursing, reducing it to mere numerical frequency, much of the human experience of men in nursing is lost.

I think the answer is as simple as the immediacy of experience is to human beings. In my opinion, men need the camaraderie not simply of other men but of like-minded men. When nursing educators and other leaders oversimplify the experience of men as a minority in nursing, reducing it to mere numerical frequency, much of the human experience of men in nursing is lost. It is ironic that that could take place in a profession that explicitly embraces holistic care.

If you’re a man in nursing, have you experienced isolation, whether in the presence of other men in nursing or not? What has sustained you thus far? If you’re not a man in nursing, have you caught a glimpse of non-physical isolation among your male colleagues? What would you propose nursing as a field do to address this problem?

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