Men in nursing face underrepresentation and stigma

London Bolsius

When you think of gender inequality by major, the first thing that comes to mind is women in STEM majors, who make up only 26.5 percent of undergraduates in the Cockrell School of Engineering. However, an often overlooked area with an even greater gender imbalance is nursing, where only 10.3 percent of undergraduates here at UT are men.  While the number of women in engineering is relatively high compared to past years and there are a multitude of programs designed to increase female enrollment in STEM fields, no programs are designed to help men in fields where they are underrepresented and stigmatized. In spite of this discrepancy, both sides would be better off focusing on removing social barriers rather than ensuring equal outcome.

For example, the computer science department at UT publicly and actively seeks funding for initiatives to promote women, but there are no analogous efforts made by the School of Nursing. The Longhorn Association for Men in Nursing was one such organization, but is currently inactive

Negative images around men in nursing continue to be prevalent in popular culture. In "Meet the Parents," Ben Stiller plays a nurse who is mocked by his father-in-law. Although these negative images of male nurses have the potential to dissuade men from considering it as a possible career, other factors contribute to this lack of support as well. The high-tech fields that women are encouraged to enter offer higher salaries, but there is little effort to bring gender equality to lower-paying manual labor jobs. 

Additionally, though men in nursing are underrepresented, they make an estimated $5,148 more than their female counterparts.  This perceived privilege contributes to the comparative lack of support for men in nursing in the eyes of Hakeem Shoola, a male nursing junior.

“I think the university is trying to [promote gender equality] but it’s difficult because men have privilege as opposed to women,” Shoola said. “I have noticed when we have to do invasive exams on each other the professors always ask if the women are comfortable being touched but never if the men feel comfortable, which is a double standard in and of itself.”

There is a definite underrepresentation of men in the field of nursing, in large part due to historical attitudes that are unlikely to change.  However, this is an inevitable reality. It remains far more important to focus on removing barriers for the men who want to enter nursing, rather than focus on merely increasing their numbers.

The goal of perfectly equal representation by gender remains unattainable and unnecessary. Ensuring equality of outcome is not as critical as improving equality of opportunity. Ultimately, nobody should be pushed into fields they do not wish to pursue. Instead, people must be allowed to pursue whatever field interests them, regardless of gender. If society desires to truly eliminate gender bias, social stigmas must be eliminated on all sides for all professions.

Bolsius is a computer science freshman from Round Rock.