Men's nursing group helps defy gender stereotypes

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CHESTER, Pa. -- Male nurse. Some see it as a contradiction of terms.

That's something Frank Poliafico and Normajean Colby are trying to change through the establishment of the Greater Philadelphia Area Chapter of American Assembly for Men in Nursing.

"Nursing is not women's work," Ms. Colby said. "It is nurse's work. Right now, the nursing population doesn't match the patient population. Our patients are not all white women."

Ms. Colby is a Widener University nursing professor whose doctoral dissertation was called "The Essence of Nursing as Perceived by Practicing Registered Nurses who are Male."

She said about 6.5 percent of active working nurses in the United States are men and that in 1980, that percentage was 6 percent.

"We're not moving like other professions," she said, adding that the stereotype of men in nursing is that they are not smart enough to be a doctor or are feminine in some way.

To combat this image, the two founded the local chapter to host professional, social and public service activities for both nurses and students to encourage the recruitment and retention of nurses who are male.

Having role models and chipping away at gender discrimination and sexual harassment are keys to changing the perception, they said.

Mr. Poliafico recalled being the sole male student in a class of 13 in Widener University's initial nursing class in 1971.

He said students of other disciplines would taunt him, "Look at that guy with all the girls."

To which his response was, "You want me to prove my virility to you?"

Even more recently, his daughter attended a lecture in England in the 1990s. Concentrating on nursing, the main speaker said, "There is no room for men in this profession."

Ms. Colby said a variety of caring methods is needed. "Even the patients need different perspectives and different styles," she said.

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