Male 'U' Nursing students say gender sets them apart

Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 14, 2011

Nursing School junior David Kalvelage has only one complaint about his area of study, and it isn’t that he’s typically only one of several males in his Nursing School classes.

“Often nurses can be very chatty and gossipy,” he said.

As a male in the School of Nursing, Kalvelage is often in the minority in his classes and at the Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Mich. where he works while pursuing his undergraduate degree.

But Kalvelage said being in this position is often an advantage. Being one of the few males in the undergraduate nursing program has set him apart from his classmates, he said.

“Professors might remember me a little easier,” Kalvelage said. “I've noticed a couple of times, though, I'll only have met a professor once, (and) the professor will know me right off the bat.”

Kalvelage isn’t the only male in the School of Nursing who feels his situation is a positive one. Several males studying and working in the school said being in the minority is often beneficial, offering them a unique education and segue into the field.

According to data provided to The Michigan Daily by the School of Nursing, out of 146 traditional freshmen and sophomore cross-campus transfer students, 15 men were enrolled in last year’s entering School of Nursing undergraduate class. Of the school’s 225 master’s students, 16 are male. And of the 69 doctoral students in the school, only two are male.

For the University’s second career Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, which is intended for college graduates interested in obtaining an accelerated degree in nursing in 12 months, the 2010 entering class has the highest percentage of males of all nursing programs at 17 percent. But at 13 male students, this is still a lower number than male enrollment in the school's undergraduate and master’s programs.

The gender imbalance at the school reflects the number of male professional nurses — with 6 percent of the total population of registered nurses being male, according to the nursing information website The numbers of males enrolled in School of Nursing degree programs is just above or below this percentage.

According to the most recent data available in the University’s Status of Women Report for 2007-2008, 8 percent of students who graduated with a baccalaureate degree from the School of Nursing during that academic year were males. Additionally, males made up 6 percent of the graduating master’s class that year, and no males were in the graduating doctoral class.

Kalvelage said he thinks low male interest in the field is due to the unrealistic perceptions the media produce. Kalvelage cited the films “Meet the Parents” and “Yes Man” — which have male nurses as main characters — as examples of the media skewing the image of the male nurse.

“The media suggests that nursing isn't a manly field to be in,” he said.

Not only are students in the School of Nursing predominantly female, but women have also made up the majority of the school’s faculty since the 90s, according to the Status of Women Report. In 1990, there were 62 tenured and tenure-track women faculty in the School of Nursing, but only 4 men in the same positions. In 2007, there were 38 females and three males who were tenured and tenure-track faculty members.

Nursing School prof. Reg Williams said he finds the imbalanced ratio of males and females in the field unfortunate, but suggested there may be hope for improvement.

“Medicine started out being predominantly men, and over time now, it’s evened out in terms of men and women,” he said.

Nursing School senior Kimberly Cristobal, president of the Student Nurses’ Association on campus, said she’s noticed the gender imbalance in her classes, in clinical practice and within her student organization. She added that she’s fielded patient requests to be cared for only by a female nurse, though male and female nurses are generally assigned the same tasks within a health care setting.

"(These patients) have been older women, or those who object due to religious reasons or modesty,” Cristobal said.

She said she’s observed more males pursuing graduate work to advance to specific nursing positions, like nurse anesthetist, which is one of the top-paying areas of nursing that many male nurses choose to enter. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists website, about 46 percent of all nurse anesthetists are males.

Kalvelage said he’s considering becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist in the future.

He said he thinks many men interested in medicine choose to be doctors since it’s often viewed as a more prominent position than a nurse.

“I think it’s important to men to have a prestigious job,” Kalvelage said. “I think nursing, as a very care-focused field, expects women to fulfill that caring role.”

Williams, who has been teaching at the University since the 80s, said he’s seen the nursing stereotype persist since he was a college student. As a nursing student at the University of Washington in Seattle in the 70s, Williams said he wrote a research paper that considered the presence of males in the field.

“I argued at the time that the field would benefit from a greater balance of men and women,” he said.

School of Nursing Dean Kathleen Potempa wrote in a statement on the School of Nursing’s website that building a heterogeneous population at the school is a priority for students, faculty and administrators.

“The school places great value on diversity and multiculturalism and seeks to ensure a positive, supportive climate in which all individuals are welcome,” Potempa wrote. “We are a community that is committed to building an environment that values and respects every person, regardless of gender, age, race, sexual orientation, cultural background, religion, nationality or beliefs.”

Nursing School junior Kyle Brown said he thinks the stereotype of nursing being a female-oriented field is decades old and is difficult to shake. However, Brown, who has been working in a hospital for a few years, said he has found it refreshing to be one of the few males in a nursing setting.

“I went to a private all-boys school during high school, and now that I’m in nursing school … it’s a good change of pace,” he said.

Williams said despite being one of the few males in his graduating class at the University of Utah, he was able to thrive due to the support of his professors.

“When I think back to my undergraduate education … I was very fortunate,” he said. “I wasn’t treated any differently or made to feel foolish.”

Each male said ultimately, they are proud of their work and are excited to be able to provide a unique contribution to the field.

“So often I hear that nurses are the ones that patients remember the most,” Kalvelage said. “They can have the most personal impact (on patients) and can be there during all steps of care.”

Brown said he found his calling in nursing after observing the interesting and meaningful work nurses have the opportunity to do.

“When you leave work for the day, you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile,” he said.