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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Nurses Who Happen To Be Dudes

I'm no expert, but I've done a little bit of research into the history of men in nursing.  Here's a summary of a few articles I've been looking at this morning on the subject:

Did you know that around the turn of the last millenium, women weren't allowed into nursing?  That's according to this post on allnurses.com, anyway.  In fact, that post has a pretty interesting timeline of the history of men in nursing.

The first nursing school, according to the article/post, was founded around 250 B.C. and was exclusively for men because women were considered to be not pure enough.

It wasn't until just after the turn into the 20th century that men went nearly extinct from the profession.  In fact, according to this Medscape article, nursing schools for men were relatively common in America around 1900.  In just 30 years, the percentage of nurses who happen to be dudes dropped down to less than 1%.

So, what's the reason for this?  Well, there are a few theories.  One, talked about in this article, posits that men found "other, more lucrative occupations" and, slowly, left the field.  I'm not sold on this, however.

Personally, I'm more apt to believe the theory set forth in the previously mentioned Medscape article.  The hero of nursing, Florence Nightingale, lobbied women to take up the call to care for the sick and injured.  Also, she lobbied governments to make it more difficult for men to become nurses, saying that men were "not suited to nursing."  She is actually pretty well known as one of the reasons for the downfall of men in nursing.  Lots of nurses don't know about this, though, because "Flo" is always so strongly doted on as a hero for the profession.  I suppose she is, but she sure made it difficult for dudes.

Graduating class of 1899 from Victoria General Hospital, Halifax, Nova Scotia
(from this Medscape article)
In 1972, it became illegal for education programs to discriminate based on gender (again, from previous Medscape article).  After this, the numbers of men in nursing began climbing again. . . slowly. . . oh, so slowly.  By 1980, we made up 2.7%.  By 2008, 6.6%.

It's a long, slow climb, but we're getting there.  Nursing went from being the doman of men only to becoming known as "women's work."  It's taking a while, but we're working on swinging that pendulum back towards the middle of the spectrum.


  1. F**k Florence. No, really.

    Walt Whitman (yes, THAT Walt Whitman) was nursing patients during the Civil War long before anyone needed official permission to do it. But unlike Clara Barton, he didn't see the need for a press campaign; he just got in and did the job. That's about as nursey as one gets.

    So were Knights Hospitallers all over the Mediterranean, during the Middle Ages during the Crusades. (0% women, BTW, though they certainly had plenty of them helping out too.)

    BTW, these were rich noblemen with horse, armor, and swords. Definitely not the dregs of society types. They not only figured that, like the Blues Brothers, they were actually on a mission from God, but put their money and bodies where their mouth was, and I'm guessing that functional millionaires trained to be asskickers with swords were some pretty damned effective patient advocates. (My administration nonetheless refuses to let me wear a sword at work, esp. in triage, despite both the clear benefit it would be for the job, and the historical precedent. (Bunch of tofu-slurping prissypants hippies if you ask me. My personal bucket-list goal is to institute the Bruce Lee/Dirty Harry Theory of Nursing into the care matrix.)

    So while I'm glad the ladies had their century in the limelight, it's time to recognize that what nursing requires isn't a specific gender, but rather a commitment to humanity. I don't believe either sex has any advantage at that. Though I'm pretty certain I know which one's going to get to help with all the heavy lifting. ;)

  2. Agree with Aesop, Florence was one of the worst things to happen to nursing. Refused to allow it to become a profession, ensured that the ladies became the doctors handmaidens (which is still causing problems today) and also had a worse infection/death rate in her hospital in Scutari. A better example would be Mary Seacole who at least had the stones to work at the front line with the soldiers.

  3. Love y'alls thoughts on Flo. Gotta wonder how she became such a hero in our field. Ever since I learned more than what they teach you in nursing school about her (that she's the best thing to ever happen to nursing), I've had a hard time celebrating Nurse's Day on her birthday. I'll celebrate nurses around the world, but I won't recognize her birthday.