Tim Mullaney

McKnight’s Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman recently raised some thought-provoking questions about how “women manage women” in long-term care facilities with largely female staffs. Her blog got me thinking along some other lines: Male-female and male-male conflicts may become increasingly common as skilled nursing facilities become more gender diverse.

The number of male registered nurses has tripled since 1970, and the number of male licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses has more than doubled, according to a Census Bureau report released last week. Men still account for only about 10% of all nurses, but an initiative is underway to bring male enrollment in nursing programs to 20% by 2020.

This influx of male nurses is likely to affect SNF staffing in particular. Rising demand for long-term care and end-of-life services is fueling the recruitment of men, said sociologist Liana Christin Landivar, author of the Census Bureau report.

While bringing more men on board might greatly enrich the nursing profession, there are naturally going to be strains as nursing staffs continue to diversify. No doubt, many of you have stories to share about this and know some effective strategies for creating an exemplary working environment. But here are three recommendations suggested by research on this topic:

1. Organize group activities. Good news: Male and female nurses are largely treated equally in the workplace, according to a Gallup poll. Bad news: Female nurses are far more likely to say they have a best friend at work. This may have changed somewhat since the 2002 Gallup poll, but the result indicated a “lack of social integration” for male nurses in the workplace despite the presence of caring coworkers. By organizing group activities, managers can break down social barriers.

2. Put together a mentorship program. Either men or women can be effective clinical mentors, but there are non-clinical issues that men may want to discuss among themselves, notes registered nurse Beth Greenwood. Unfortunately, male nurses often struggle to find mentors, given the small number of men in the profession. Try to connect newer male nurses with more experienced men on your nursing staff, or reach out to other healthcare organizations to set up a community-level mentorship program. You also can encourage male nurses on staff to join an organization such as the American Assembly for Men in Nursing.

3. Watch your language. I’ve admittedly felt a little sheepish typing “male nurse.” Many men in the profession dislike the term. “I don’t call my attorney a ‘female lawyer,’” said Frank Stryzcek, R.N., in the NYU Langone Medical Center’s “News & Views.” Workplace culture is also influenced by more subtle linguistic habits, such as using female pronouns to refer to nurses, even in written materials. Using more inclusive pronouns (and discouraging the term “murse”) can make a positive difference. Of course, policing people’s language can also create tension.

But managers will reduce conflicts — and turnover of their male staff — by taking some small steps to create a positive atmosphere. And those who need further motivation to advocate for male nurses might revisit a certain hit movie starring Ben Stiller.