Stereotypes in Nursing: What to Know
Nursing Colleges Search
“Being a male in nursing can be tough sometimes. Often I have had people ask me, ‘Why aren’t you a doctor? Or didn’t you want to be a doctor ?’ I have tough skin, and explain to them that I’m a nurse, I’ll be taking care of you, and here is why I chose this profession.”John Heymach, RN, Co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Next Move Healthcare
In a world where gender, race, and other sociocultural biases continue to exist, it is no surprise that stereotypes about the nursing field are also pervasive. Amidst a flurry of societal misconceptions about nurses’ roles, aptitudes, and abilities, it can be hard for nurses and aspiring nurses to navigate this siloed view of their profession.
As part of progress towards a more inclusive and just society, it is essential to recognize and challenge the stereotypes within nursing. These misconceptions have led to a lack of diversity in the nursing workforce and have prevented individuals from pursuing or excelling in their nursing careers. Nurses and the broader healthcare community must prioritize confronting these stereotypes and dismantling them with education, advocacy, and visibility of the diverse and capable individuals in the nursing profession.
“People who aren’t in the nursing industry who think that we only work three days a week don’t realize that we are mentally and physically exhausted. We must stand together as nurses and communities to work against these stereotypes. Nurses make the world go round, and you never know when you will need them,” says John Heymach, registered nurse and co-founder and chief clinical officer at Next Move Healthcare.
Keep reading to explore some of the perceptions about nurses while showing how they don’t necessarily reflect reality. Understanding where specific ideas come from and recognizing individual power in challenging them makes it possible to create an inclusive environment within nursing.
Meet the Expert: John Heymach, RN, BSN
John Heymach is co-founder and chief clinical officer of Next Move Healthcare, which specializes in providing staffing solutions for nurses, allied health professionals, and other essential personnel, ensuring that healthcare facilities can continue providing exceptional patient care. He has 15 years of experience on the healthcare industry’s clinical and staffing side, having worked in the ER, telemetry, neuro-trauma, ICU, and more.
Heymach serves as the primary liaison between Next Move’s clinicians and employers, including hospitals, to establish relationships and mitigate any issues. He is a National Nurse Daisy Award winner, a 2019 Neuro Star ICU Award Winner, and a 2012 MNU Nursing Leadership Award winner.
Common Stereotypes in Nursing
Research published in 2022 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health uncovered the most common stereotypes in nursing. Many of the stereotypes for this profession have to do with gender. Typically, nursing has been a profession that is associated with women. Specifically, the stereotype is that women are better suited to caregiving and make better nurses than men.
The research also found that there is a strong public perception that nursing has a negative impact on nurses’ social and family lives. The researchers uncovered that some people even hold the “belief that women should interrupt or abandon their professional careers at certain points in their lives to look after their families. These beliefs may explain the lack of family support perceived by some women when they decide to become nurses.”
Just as there are stereotypes about women in nurses, there are also stereotypes about men in this profession. “Being a male in nursing can be tough sometimes. Often I have had people ask me, ‘Why aren’t you a doctor? Or didn’t you want to be a doctor ?’ I have tough skin, and explain to them that I’m a nurse, I’ll be taking care of you, and here is why I chose this profession,” shares Heymach.
The researchers uncovered many other stereotypes about male nurses, including that they do not belong in gynecology or obstetrics, are less sensitive to their patient’s emotions, are disorganized, and have greater management and leadership skills. Also, many people associate all male nurses as either homosexual or a sexual threat to patients.
Not all stereotypes in nursing are gender-related. Researchers reported that nursing is often assumed to be a profession that does not require a high level of education. While this profession is highly valued by many, it is not considered prestigious by members of the public. Nursing is also often associated with a lower social status. This can lead to a lack of respect from doctors, other healthcare professionals, and patients.
The paper concluded that “nursing is considered a women’s profession, limiting male participation. It is perceived as a low-skilled, low-prestige, poorly paid profession requiring little academic training, which is easy to enter. Nursing is also viewed as a profession lacking autonomy and subordinate to the medical profession.”
Ways to Address Stereotyping
It is important to address the stereotypes nurses face and educate people about the depth of knowledge and skills required to excel in nursing, regardless of gender. Nursing is a dynamic profession that demands critical thinking, leadership, and problem-solving capabilities and should be viewed as such rather than a career for those not interested in academic pursuits.
To address stereotyping in nursing, it is essential to provide comprehensive education on the impact of stereotypes and promote diversity within the workforce. Encouraging self-reflection, fostering open dialogues, and implementing mentorship programs can facilitate greater understanding and empathy. Healthcare leadership can facilitate this by providing continuing education programs, workshops, and seminars.
Some of the stereotyping in nursing comes from patients and their families, so leadership must develop clear policies against discrimination and emphasize patient-centered care, collaboration, and teamwork to create a more inclusive healthcare environment: “We often have to work as a team of nurses to explain to patients that discriminatory behavior is unacceptable. Many hospitals have turned to a zero policy for any kind of discrimination or violence against nurses, whether verbal or physical,” explain Heymach.
At Next Move Healthcare, Heymach carefully monitors travel nurse placements to ensure they are treated fairly. “If I feel someone is not being treated right, we won’t send other people into a situation where this could potentially happen again. I want to get to the root of the problem, talk with their administration, and let them know what’s happening. I want to make sure that people who don’t have the voice to speak up can get the help they need,” he says. “There have been times where nurses call and say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable here.’ We always take very seriously and make sure that we provide education to the hospital to make sure that our nurses and clinicians are safe.”
Ultimately, it is the job of administrators to identify bias and stereotypes and address it. “Most hospital administrations actively try to be inclusive. There’s a wide variety of nurses, whether male, female, or whatever you identify as, and they should all be able to be nurses.”
For nurses who have experienced discrimination due to stereotyping, leadership must provide help. “Clinics and hospitals need to provide mental health coverage. At Next Move, we provide mental health coverage for nurses or clinicians on travel assignments. They should be able to feel included at work in whomever they may be,” says Heymach.
Advice For Nurses
Stereotypes do not define who nurses are, nor do they negate the training, skills, and education these trained healthcare providers bring to the table. Fighting stereotypes within the healthcare industry will require a collective effort from everyone involved, including healthcare leadership and patients, who can support nurses by recognizing and acknowledging their invaluable contributions.
For Heymach, focusing on why he is a nurse has helped him overcome challenges from stereotyping: “I train new nurses, and one of the things I tell them is you’re there for your patient. Focus on that. You’ll come across people that may not like you for whatever reason. If you have a mindset that you’re there to take care of somebody who is not in good shape, that can get you far,” he encourages.
However, mindset can only get a person so far. “Take a deep breath, and if a problem persists, speak up. Speak up for yourself and your other clinicians so that leadership can make changes or support you,” Heymach advises.
If a nurse is experiencing discrimination due to stereotyping, there are several people they can reach out to, depending on their level of comfort. The easiest person to talk to first would be their direct supervisor. Other people nurses can reach out to include union representatives, human resources, and senior leadership.
Lastly, being understanding can go a long way: “As nurses, we will care for people from different cultures and religions. I’ve run into patients who do not like that I’m a male nurse and told me they prefer a female nurse, which is fine. I understand that when people come into the hospital, they aren’t well, so their stress levels may be high. It is my job as a nurse to explain that I will do my best regardless of our race, culture, or religious differences,” says Heymach.