1. Kuehnert, Paul DNP, RN, FAAN


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As an RN for more than 40 years-with experience in pediatrics, public health, and philanthropy-I read a recent article by NPR's Shankar Vedantam ("Why More Men Don't Get into the Field of Nursing") with interest. Vedantam essentially argued that more men don't enter nursing because it's seen as a "feminine" profession and proposed that we start emphasizing its more "masculine" attributes.


When I became a nurse in 1975, my choice was shaped first by my youthful desire to be contrarian: to bend gender norms by being a man in a "woman's" profession.


When I began practicing nursing, however, I grew in my understanding that a commitment to nursing, particularly in my specialty field of public health, provided me with the means to act every day in concrete ways to further healing and build community. And so I applaud calls like Vedantam's drawing attention to the need for more men in nursing.


It remains true that far more women than men enter the nursing profession. (Only about 10% of nurses in the United States are men.) The reasons for that are, to be sure, complex. However, I believe Vedantam, in his piece, vastly oversimplified this long-standing problem-and its solution.


While I have no doubt that one of the reasons men choose not to enter the field of nursing is because it is viewed as a "feminine profession," the solution is not, as he says, to emphasize its more "masculine" attributes. The view of nursing as "feminine" and "women's work" is deep rooted, so the solutions need to be equally deep rooted and strategic.


Popular culture and the media play a significant role in perpetuating the misperceptions and stereotypes of nurses. For instance, researchers recently revisited the Woodhull study of nurses' representations in media-and found that nurses are, for a variety of reasons, still rarely used as experts in news stories about health (to read phase 2 of this study in AJN, go to Popular culture representations of nurses rarely show the depth or breadth of nurses' expertise; from Nurse Ratched to Nurse Jackie, television and movie nurses are caricatures-the battle-ax, the drug addict, the physician's love interest.


Here's the thing: Nursing is not really one of the two extremes Vedantam highlights. It is not only holding someone's hand at the bedside or "blood and guts." Nursing requires a great deal of technical expertise, great strength (physical and emotional), resilience, the ability to collaborate with others, and the capacity to think on your feet and apply critical thinking under stressful circumstances-all things that can be appealing to the right type of person, regardless of gender identification.


So rather than recasting nursing as something that can be deemed "macho" or stereotypically "male," why not, instead, clear up the misperceptions of the nursing profession? Emphasize the variety of careers available in nursing, and the contributions nurses make not just to patient care, but to research, policy, and the health of communities?


Shifting this narrative must begin with us-our country's more than 3 million nurses. We must learn to use our advocacy skills-the ones we use for our patients-to begin shifting what the public thinks it knows about nurses-and the way our news and popular media portray them.