The Tale of the Male Nurse

I am a nurse. I am also male. Therefore, to everyone, I am a male nurse. I work with a lot of female nurses. They get annoyed when you call them female nurses. Or, I assume they would, because nobody ever calls them that.

I studied nursing, and I have my bachelor’s degree in the science of nursing. I do not have a degree in male nursing.

I practice nursing as a career. I do not practice male nursing.

Yet, the comments flood in almost every shift…

“Oh, I enjoy that there are so many more male nurses these days.”

“I’m glad I have a male nurse, I think they’re more compassionate.” (Or the opposite is said.)

“I don’t want a male nurse to clean up after me since I shit the bed. I need my dignity.”

“You’re a male nurse? Are you studying to be a doctor? Why aren’t you a doctor?”

And on and on. But of course I have a favorite comment, which is just the simple surprise:

“Oh! So you’re a male nurse!”

This comment can be stated with all different inflections and accents on specific words to mean several different things. With this simple statement, one can be saying “I can’t believe a man decided to be a nurse,” “I am happy (or upset) that you are a man,” “I am genuinely surprised that you are a nurse,” or just the good old “There aren’t many penises in your profession, are there?”

Let’s be clear: I wanted to be a nurse, not a doctor. I like taking care of people, not telling other people to take care of people. I like spending time with only a few patients instead of spending a short time with hundreds of patients. I chose my career for the satisfaction, not the paycheck. And that wasn’t a bad decision. I know plenty of doctors who are miserable, and the Porsche they drive to work doesn’t make a damn difference in their level of happiness.

Nursing is not a female field. It actually originated in India well over a century ago, and it was a male-dominated field. The fact that we sent all of our young men off to World Wars to slaughter one another by the thousands per day was the main reason why nursing became a female-dominated profession. And even if it were actually a professional field made for women only, the fact that it is perceived as “less” of a field than being a doctor for that very reason is disappointing. Women are fucking awesome, in case you haven’t noticed. They can make human beings inside of them. They can feed those human beings with their bodies. And they can make a baby from scratch while performing the incredibly physically and mentally difficult job of being your nurse. So, respect the ladies, people.

Now that that’s off my chest, I can admit that being called a male nurse is something that I actually find to be quite comical. I just wish I could respond to people the way I do in my head. Secretly, I attach the person’s sex to the front of their job title, which is a piece of information readily available in their chart. I just wish I could say these things to their face. A dream conversation would go thusly:

“Oh! So you’re a male nurse!”

“Yes! And I see that you are a female mailman. How interesting…and fun to say!”

The job titles get more and more fun as you add genders to the front. I just wish I had the gall to say these things aloud on a day-to-day basis…

“I didn’t realize I was driving that fast. But let me just say that I’m glad you’re a male officer.”

“I would prefer a male cashier, as I am not comfortable buying these condoms from a female.”

“You’re a male barista? Are you studying to be a chef?”

“I would like my dog to see a male veterinarian. You know, someone who is a little more familiar with his anatomy, despite the lack of testicles.”

“Hey LeBron! Can I have your autograph? Thanks so much. You’re my favorite male basketball player, by the way.”

“I see you’re a male priest. I honestly would prefer a female.”

And so on.

Listen, I realize that being called a male nurse is typically not meant to be insulting or anything. But I can only say that because I am a man. Most of the comments concerning the surprise that I am a nurse and I wear my genitals on the outside of my body are actually demeaning toward women. And that’s what really annoys me.

Being a nurse is challenging. It is a career that demands a high level of knowledge with constant updates in education. Nursing requires physical endurance, emotional stability, sound critical thinking, and good public relations skills. We are a tribe that is constantly challenged and beaten down both physically and emotionally. We are the liaisons between the complicated world of medicine and every other person on the planet in need of care. I’m not saying we’re better than anyone else, but we deserve better than this awkward concept that the male nurses should be doctors and the female nurses should be considered less than doctors. If you are in the healthcare industry, you understand that nurses and physicians are simply different practices in medicine.

And I chose to be a nurse because I wanted to be a nurse. And I am damned good at it. I’ve literally saved people’s lives, and I only say that because it is an honor to have done so. I don’t say that to get a pat on the back. Every job is important.

But I must say that I have actually been in the situation when I was working ER and I was in the room when a patient’s heart stopped from a pulmonary embolism and I started CPR right away and she came back to us a minute later. I saved her life in a minute by acting upon every bit of knowledge and instinct I had gathered in my years as a nurse. I left the room with more mixed emotions than I’ve ever felt in my life. I had enough energy to jump from wall to wall for the rest of the night, but I also wanted to ball up in a corner and cry. But, since it’s nursing, I had the opportunity to do neither. Instead, I walked into the room of the next new patient I got, and introduced myself as Mike, their nurse.

Their response: “Oh! So you’re a male nurse!”


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