5 Nursing Stereotypes That Should Disappear


There are only so many times, as a nurse you can deal with stereotypes and preconceived ideas about your profession without needing a bit of a “vent session”. There are two common responses when informing others that I am a Nurse that make my skin crawl. The first is always from a male, and goes something like this, “Oh, you’re a Nurse, wow (insert ridiculous grin here) What kind of nurse are you, a naughty nurse?”  Really!?  Did that really just come out of your mouth sir? Oh My. The second is “Oh, you are a nurse, why don’t you just finish school and be a Doctor?”  Another ridiculous reply. Here are a few more of my favorites.

1. Nursing is a Female Profession

History tells us that religious groups, priests, nuns, and nannies took on nursing roles. However, the stereotype does have a grain of truth: Nurses were predominantly women in wartime, when men were absent from the workforce. World War I and World War II gave women in general more opportunities to advance, with nursing being one of the more socially acceptable jobs available.

Yes, today’s nurses are mostly women. In fact, women outnumber men by a 16-to-1 ratio, according to a national registry. But the stereotype of limiting nursing as a career choice to one gender does everyone a disservice. As of 2004, men made up an estimated 5.8 percent of nearly 3 million registered nurses in the U.S. — and this percentage is expected to continue growing (National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

2. The Naughty Nurse Stereotype (Ahhhhh!)

The sexual connotation of the nursing role is popular with Halloween costumes and college parties, but isn’t appreciated among professionals – especially female nurses. The phrase “Hellooo nurse!” was used in vaudeville for nursing characters that dressed suggestively on stage.

Shows like M*A*S*H suggest that nurses and doctors are more than just hospital coworkers. In HawthoRNe, the character Candy Sullivan, played by Christina Moore, often acts like the stereotypical naughty nurse. Along the lines of sexy stereotypes like the “naughty cop” and “sexy flight attendant,” this label is more about the idea of a sexual fantasy, than about the nursing profession itself.

3. RNs are Failed MDs

Ever been asked why you never became a doctor? Nurses are not medical school rejects, dropouts, or failures. They are professionals who entered into the field through a specific career path, separate from MDs. But somehow, your family, friends, and gossipy relatives just don’t get the picture.

In fact, popular hospital drama ER got a lot of flack for doing just that when they had Head Nurse Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) leave nursing for medical school to earn her MD.

4. Nurses Work for Doctors

    There are advanced nurse practioners who work under a doctor’s supervision. Part of a nurse’s job description is to update doctors about their patients. Some even work in the OR alongside surgeons. But nurses do not actually work for doctors.

    In an article in the New York Times called “Why Nurse Stereotypes are Bad for Health,” writer Theresa Brown, RN, argues “Hospital nurses are hired and fired by other nurses, answer to a unit manager who is a nurse, and follow the protocols set by more senior nursing officers … nursing is an autonomous profession and the formal management structure of most hospitals keeps MDs and RNs separate and independent.”

    Bottom line? Nurses and doctors are coworkers. Nurses see to the daily care of patients, acting as a liaison between patients and doctors as the patient’s advocate. The two parties have a professional working relationship.

    5. Male Nurses Are All Gay

    The stereotype that “murses,” or male nurses, are gay comes from the idea that nursing is an all-female profession (see stereotype #1). Of course, the media hasn’t helped matters either. In Meet the Parents, Ben Stiller played Gaylord Focker, who was teased endlessly about being a male nurse, considered a feminine profession.

    In HawthoRNe, Ray Stein (David Julian Hirsh) is often mistaken for being gay because he is a male nurse in a female field. In reality, he has a crush on Candy, the show’s resident “naughty nurse.” To add insult to injury, Stein also has hopes of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. Three stereotypes for the price of one!”

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    • RE: Number 2 stereotype. So maybe less nurses should dress up as naughty nurses for Halloween. I know a lot who have and it really helps to perpetuate the stereotype. I think nursing in general has come a long way. I am a social worker and I don’t see people thinking male nurses are gay or that as a profesison that teachers, nurses and social workers are a female profession. I think that’s really changing. Anyway, a good article.


      Posted by: Kyle H (a SW) (February 27, 2011)
    • RE #3 In defence of ER (great show btw) I’ll say that Abbey went to med school but had a year left when she had to drop out, she only went back and finish it. I think that almost every profesion has sterotypes, specially in Hollywood for “comic” purposes. At the end of the day, what everyone wants is good care, doesn’t matter if the nurse is male, female, gay….

      Posted by: Zayida (February 27, 2011)
    • The price of school is definitely going to go way up thx to the Tea Party candidates reducing education out of their own budgets resulting in the schools very little alternative but to boost tuitions, what a bunch of jackasses.

      Posted by: Jermaine Bettes (February 27, 2011)
    • Here’s three things I’ve learned about nurses that I find to be generally true.

      1. Most nurses are innately driven to be care takers. I imagine that’s the only way that they can put up with most of the bodily fluids that come out of most of their sick patients…ugh…I couldn’t do it. I don’t know many nurses that do it for the money or prestige.

      2. Most nurses seem to think that working at your everyday local general hospital is going to be like working at the hospital they see in soap operas. If they don’t find enough drama in their department…it seems they tend to create it.

      3. Actually this applies to everyone who works in a hospital – not just nurses. They all think that they have the most important job in the hospital and that the hospital would simply fall apart if they didn’t come to work that day. Believe me on this one. The doctors think that way. The nurses think that way. The administration thinks that way. The lab techs think that way. The radiology group thinks that way. Surgeons especially think that way. Even the environmental services (janitors) think that way. No wonder there’s always conflict at a hospital.

      Posted by: Joseph Carizo (February 27, 2011)
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