No more a female bastion: Men in nursing jobs

In Frame: Shani T Mathew

India saw its first batch of male nurses almost two decades ago. Yet, even now, the men who chose nursing as their profession find their gender is more of a talking point than the patient care they have been providing

A woman dressed in a white caretaker’s uniform, her hair covered in a small cap, tends to a patient with a smile. That’s the picture which comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘nurse’. This is not because there aren’t any men in the profession, but the field is largely dominated by women. It is a rare sight to see male nurses along with female nurses even in media representations.
Yet male nurses are an integral part of the country’s healthcare system. During the pandemic a lot of them came forward to provide care and comfort to the critical patients.

Although there is no specific male-female quota in nursing colleges, in July 2019, the central administrative body of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) introduced a gender- based system with 80% of nursing jobs reserved for females and remaining 20% for males. The reason given for this heavy skew in favour of women was that ‘female nurses are appropriate for patient care and comfort’. The male nurses’ and AIIMS male nurses’ union have expressed their disagreement as this decision widely curbs the rights of male nurses.
“When I joined nursing school, it wasn’t difficult to get a seat. But the society was stereotypical. Many used to ask me why am I choosing a female-dominated profession. But my family supported my decision when I chose this career path”, secretary of the United Nurses Association (Delhi) Juna Wilson told Patriot.

Wilson is now working as the nursing charge of the emergency department at Maharaja Agrasen Hospital. “We are usually appointed at the operation theatre, ICU and emergency department. In certain situations, we might have to lift heavy patients or perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). So, male nurses are usually preferred if they are available. Out of the 460 nurses, around 180 are men”, said Wilson.
When asked about how they are addressed by the patients, he said, “Usually, we are called ‘brothers’. Sometimes patients might call us ‘compounders’ or even ‘Doctor Sahib’.” He added that all the nursing staff have the same working hours — morning or evening shift of six hours each, or a night shift of 12 hours.

The appointment of male nurses in certain departments is limited because of the notion that men don’t like people raising voices against them lest they retaliate. Female staff are preferred in such situations as they don’t retaliate much.
When it comes to exploitation, there is no difference between male and female nurses. If there are any, the whole nursing staff is affected. “A few cases where male nurses aren’t respected have been witnessed, but other than that we have the same consideration as female nurses. It’s been years since men started doing this profession. Though the number of male nurses is less, we have the same dignity as the profession demands. The common trend observed is that men choose this profession because of its pay scale, and the ease of getting a government job and potentially settling abroad”, Wilson says.

Juna Wilson Secretary, United Nurses Association (Delhi)

Some of the male nurses have also changed their profession. A few started real estate business while others involved themselves in stock markets, he adds.

Shani T Mathew, nursing officer at GTB Hospital says, “I’ve been working as a nurse for the past 12 years. In 2010, I came to Delhi from Kerala. Before joining GTB Hospital, I have worked in Ayushman Hospital, Dwarka and Max Hospital. I was fond of nursing as the nursing profession runs in the family. There was an increase in the scope of male nurses after the 2000s, especially in south India. When I was studying, there were around 100 male students across all batches.”

He adds, “Male nurses are welcomed by the female staff. In areas of critical care like emergency, ICU and operation theatre, male nurses are helpful. Before the entry of male nurses, females were the one who managed the critical care units. In the hospital where I am working, around 150 of the total nursing staff are men. A few years ago, during government posting, my first preference was Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital. But I didn’t get the opportunity as the hospital preferred female staff. I got posted in GTB Hospital since they welcomed more male nurses”, Mathew remarks.

When asked if patients prefer female staff over male, he said, “It depends on the patient’s comfort and experience. In certain departments like gynaecology and obstetrics, patients might prefer female nurses. I have worked in the Gynaecology department. In most cases, they see us as medical professionals.

“However, there are a few cases where the patients prefer a particular female nurse for injections and other procedures like inserting catheter tubes. In my department (Orthopaedics ward), patients prefer me to be their nurse in charge. Same is the case with other departments too.” He also informs that the hospital often appoints a male and female nurse during night duties to avoid any preference conflicts with the patients.

Speaking about the misconceptions people have regarding nursing as a profession, Mathew says, “Nurses are often considered dependent, taking orders from others. People think they are not capable of doing anything alone as they always follow the doctors. Earlier, female nurses raised their voices against exploitation but they weren’t heard much. With the advancement in the profession, nurses started questioning exploitation. When male and female nurses jointly raised their voices against exploitations, I think that’s when the administration started to dislike the entry of male nurses into the profession. Nurses are taught to be tolerant and kind but it is limited to patient’s care only. If there is any injustice or exploitation, we will raise our voice”, Mathew elaborates.

Talking about the 80:20 quota adopted by AIIMS in the admission of staff, Mathew personally believes that the administration might have taken the decision because of their perception that things might go out of control if more male nurses are appointed. As most male nurses are appointed in the Emergency department, it is easy to make a statement that only 20% reservation is needed for the male nurses. And since AIIMS is a well reputed examination body, many hospitals are following this pattern. Although nursing is an individual profession, most of the higher officials in the administration are doctors.

Clearly, seeing a profession through a sexist lens is not acceptable in this century. As more and more men choose nursing as a career, hospitals will have to open their doors wider lest they are accused of reverse discrimination.

Representational Image

Breaking stereotypes

Historically, nursing is regarded as a profession for women since care-giving is considered a feminine attribute. Even in an average household, it is generally the woman who takes care of a family member who is ailing. It is presumed that women, with their in-built motherly instinct, are more suited to this profession.

The stereotypical notion that men aren’t capable of compassion and empathy is one of the reasons which stopped men from choosing this profession, and which irks the opinionated population too.

No wonder, more women prefer this job as it provides a steady income and a sense of respect in society. Several follow the path fascinated by the work of Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing. Into this female bastion come a male nurses, causing a bit of unease among their colleagues.

It was in the early 2000s, men in India started engaging themselves in the nursing profession. According to the Ministry of Health, there are over 30 lakh nurses in the country including 8,92,829 Auxiliary Nurse Midwives, 21,51,850 Registered Nurses and Registered Midwives (RN&RM).

Based on the 2016 Health Workforce in India report by World Health Organisation, 30.5% of the total nursing workforce is from Delhi. With the statistics provided by the Delhi Nursing Council, there are 62,100 (RN & RM) registered between 2002-2015. According to the available records, 83.2% of nurses are female and 16.2 % are male nurses working in Delhi.

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