Currently around 10.2% of nurses working in the UK are male, the same percentage of male nurses as in Australia.
In a recent Daily Mail article, much of the credit for this was placed at the foot of positive male nurse role models, like Charlie Fairhead from the BBC programme Casualty.
However, feature films tend to portray male nurses negatively: as rapists or murders, or simply incompetent, uncaring, effeminate or morally corrupt people.
To find out more about the image of male nurses this films portray, I examined a total of 13 feature films including Magnolia, Meet the Parents, Where the Money is, Knocked up, Killer Nurse, Yes Man and Little Fockers. Few male nurse characters were shown to be compassionate or caring. Interestingly, the majority of the films considered in the research were produced in the USA where the number of men in nursing is only at about 7.1%. This suggests a possible link between the number of men seeing nursing as a positive career choice, and the image of male nurses portrayed on TV, in films and in the media generally.
In a previous study, I explored the image of nurses in feature films between 1900 and 2007. Nurses tended to be portrayed as self-sacrificial heroines, sex objects or romantics and increasingly as skilled self-confident professionals. These finding are the opposite of how male nurses tend to be portrayed.
Male nurses in feature films remain the butt of jokes, undervalued as skilled clinical professionals or simply shown as uncaring or incompetent. Even when male nurse characters have fleeting moments where their compassion and care shine, these are few and often negated by other activities in films. For example, Benigno, for all his care and attention, ultimately rapes his patient.
Men have much to offer the nursing profession, bring diversity and offer an as yet untapped resource in the face of a nursing shortage in most western countries. There are clearly a number of positive representations of men in TV, film and social media. However, stereotypical and predominantly negative images persist and as long as they do, many men may struggle to see nursing as a viable career option.
David Stanley’s full research is available:
Stanley D (2012) Celluloid Devils: A research study of male nurses in feature films. Journal of Advanced Nursing; 68: 11, 2526-37