The Economic Downturn

That said, the economic downturn that began in 2008, coupled with changes in gender roles, has increased nursing’s appeal for men as well as women. Currently, men make up around 11% of registered students in bachelors and master’s degree programs in nursing. Because nursing is so strongly identified with femininity, working as a nurse presents men with a serious conflict between their gender identity and their work identity. Men typically respond to this conflict by stressing the differences between what they do and traditional nursing— deemphasizing nurturing while emphasizing their technical skills, quick thinking, or use of physical strength. As a result, men are disproportionately represented in areas considered “masculine” such as operating rooms and emergency departments and underrepresented in areas such as pediatrics.

Structural Changes and Professionalization Structural changes in health care have also affected nurses’ lives and professional status. Since the 1970s, corporatization and the resulting emphasis on cost control have resulted in worse working conditions and decreased job satisfaction for most hospital-based nurses. To save costs, hospitals try to release patients before their insurance coverage ends, leaving only the sickest patients in the hospital. Yet to keep their staffing costs as low as possible, hospitals now hire considerably fewer RNs per patient than they used to. Thus, the typical hospital ward now has fewer nurses but sicker patients than in the past. As a result, nurses’ satisfaction has declined while deaths and injuries among patients have risen.

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