5 gender stereotypes about nursing and how to challenge them

Susanna Kahr

We’re all familiar with the nurses on screen in shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs and House. But these stereotypically young, sexy and female nurses don’t reflect the reality in the U.S. today. Nursing is no longer a “women’s profession” and we’re sure that nurses across the country are done with this lazy stereotype, along with the idea that nurses idolize doctors and don’t even get us started on the whole “sexy nurse” thing! If you, like us, are sick of all of these gender stereotypes, read on for our tips on how to challenge them.

Nursing is a “women’s job”

Ever since Florence Nightingale founded the nursing profession in the mid-1800s, nursing has mostly been seen as a “women’s job.” Of course, films like Meet the Parents haven’t helped since in that film Ben Stiller’s character is teased relentlessly for being a male nurse! Whilst nursing may have been a female profession during wartimes and even up until around 30 years ago, when only 3% of nurses in the U.S. were men, times have changed! According to the U.S. Census, the percentage of male registered nurses has more than tripled since 1970 from 2.7% to 9.6%! So the next time someone tells you that nursing is only for girls, you just tell them otherwise!

Nurses aren’t as clever as doctors

The common stereotype is that men are doctors and women are nurses, i.e. that women somehow aren’t as smart as men and become nurses instead. You’ve got ER to thank for perpetuating this stereotype, as some of you may know Head Nurse Abby Lockhart leaves nursing for medical school to get her MD, making many people think that becoming a doctor is the be all and end all. Well, you know as well as we do that nurses aren’t failed doctors, medical school rejects, dropouts or failures! For anyone who just won’t get the picture, you can tell them, the path to becoming an RN is totally different to that for becoming an MD and it’s path that you’re proud of taking.


Nurses idolize doctors

We have popular TV shows to thank for this one. The male doctor is always the center of attention, doing the jobs that a nurse would normally do, whilst the nurses flirt with him and act dumb. Whilst it’s true that some nurses work under the supervision of a doctor, most nurses know that they are the ones who are responsible for updating doctors about their patients! So, the idea that they are somehow lost without the doctor in charge is just insulting. Some nurses work alongside doctors and surgeons but they don’t work FOR them. In her article, “Why Nurse Stereotypes are Bad for Health,” writer Theresa Brown, RN, argues “nursing is an autonomous profession and the formal management structure of most hospitals keeps MDs and RNs separate and independent.” So, doctors and nurses are coworkers and work with each other as equals.

Male nurses must be gay

Oh this one really makes us mad. This stereotype obviously comes from the idea of nursing being an entirely female profession. Women have long been considered the primary caregivers in society, and men are seen as the breadwinners who lack the ability to care for their loved ones. Of course, this is problematic for both men and women, but when it comes to “male nurses,” who even have their own term, many assume that they must be gay or that there is something different about them. So, if someone tries to tell you this, you can challenge them by saying that having men in nursing provides a different perspective and many patients relate well to men and enjoy having a man as a nurse. If someone is great at their job, what does it matter what sexual orientation they are?


All nurses are sexy

As a nurse it can be difficult not to hate everyone’s favorite holiday – Halloween. That’s because Halloween is when all of the ‘sexy nurse’ outfits come out. This stereotype is not just bad, it’s also damaging to all nurses, as it perpetuates the idea that female nurses are sexual objects, which in worst case scenarios can lead to nurses being abused and not taken seriously. To challenge this one, you need to call out any instances of people talking about or portraying nurses this way. If you see a storyline on TV that you think is harmful, report it or start a petition. Nurses deserve better than this.



Are you an RN? Have you had any experience with stereotypes in your job, either from patients or management? Perhaps there’s a gender pay gap at your company? Either way, we want to hear from you, tell us all about it in your anonymous employer review on kununu.us.


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U.S. Census

“Why Nurse Stereotypes are Bad for Health” by Theresa Brown