STORIES
October 30, 2020

Latino Men Are Underrepresented in Nursing and Emory University Wants to Change That

Latino Men Are Underrepresented in Nursing and Emory University Wants to Change That

By: Rose Hayes BSN, RN, MA 

This is a guest article contributed on behalf of Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University. A special thanks to Roxana Chicas, PhD, RN, for her help with translation. 

>> Este artículo también está disponible en español. Lea la versión en español aquí. 

Imagine working as a nurse for 8 years and never having a colleague who looks like you or the community you represent. That’s exactly the case for Mauricio Ayala, RN, BSN, Therapy Development Specialist at Baxter Healthcare Corpor. He’s been employed by several hospitals in Washington DC, living and working in neighborhoods composed of at least 15 to 20% Latinx people; yet he’s never had a Latino male nurse as a colleague. 

Mauricio is not alone. 

Poor representation of Latino nurses is driven, in large part, by actual workforce trends. For instance, a 2020 big data report from Emory University School of Nursing revealed that for the last decade, Latinx nurses have remained underrepresented in the Georgia nursing workforce at less than 3% of all nurses. Furthermore, male nurses have consistently accounted for less than 10% of GA nurses. These numbers are consistent with national trends—only around 12% of nurses are male and around 4.8% identify as Hispanic/Latinx. 

What accounts for this disparity? 

Nursing Stigma and Underrepresentation

“Many factors contribute to this underrepresentation,” says Mauricio, “but one that might be overlooked is the lack of recruitment efforts targeting Latino men. I never came across any advertisement, college fair, or recruiter telling me, ‘You can be a nurse!’ I had an upbringing, atypical to that of most Latinx, that allowed me to know nursing was possible for me. Therefore, I did what it took to become a nurse.

“This is not the case of many Latinx, who might grow up in a ‘machista’ household,” Mauricio continues, “with the perception that nursing is ‘woman’s work’ or the lack of financial resources to pursue this career. We need to get the word out for Latino men to know they can become a nurse and that there are resources available to help them accomplish their goals.” 

We’ve long known about Latinx Erasure, in which Latinx people, especially those with black or brown complexions, are made invisible in many areas of life, from politics to Hollywood to higher education. But there are few forms of erasure with side effects as serious as in the field of nursing. And it would be easy for us to overlook this instance completely, thanks to deeply held ideas about gender, work, what it means to be vulnerable, and what it means to be strong.

Why We Need More Latino Male Nurses

The unfair reality is that it’s often logistically not even an option for Latino men to request a male nurse. Positive representation for Latino healthcare providers, including Latino male nurses, has real consequences for Latino men. Latino men need to know there are people that look like them, and that share some experiences with them, in our health system. 

In the midst of COVID-19, when many Latinx communities are at increased risk for exposure and death, compared to white communities, something important is missing from the national conversation: Where are the news stories about Latinx nurses? More specifically, where are the stories of Latino men working as nurses? 

Think about your male partners, husbands, brothers, and fathers. 

  • What ownership do they have over healthcare spaces? 
  • How does a trip to the clinic or hospital make them react? 
  • How many men would rather wait until they’re unconscious before accepting medical attention? 

Or, if you identify as a man—what’s your reaction, right now, at the thought of seeking medical care?  

Many men describe the way healthcare represents a type of vulnerability that’s at odds with the strength and independence upon which they’ve been taught to build their identity. When patient handouts, written mainly by white, female nurses, speak in a feminine voice to a female caregiver, men can be made to not only feel weak, but also invisible. 

Women-identified nurses can try, but many probably can’t imagine what it’s like to cut off the vulnerable parts of yourself over the years, to systematically bury fear and sadness in order to survive—especially in some Latinx communities that engage in machismo, or that punish signs of traditional femininity in boys and men. Too often, men are forced to confront disease and recovery through a lens that forbids weakness, sensitivity, and even the acknowledgement of pain. 

The fact that healthcare spaces can seem “feminine” in a “traditional” sense (e.g., through things as simple as talking about mental health and pain), and the fact that the first person you see when you enter the health system, typically a nurse, is statistically most likely to be a woman can further complicate these masculine contradictions. 

Why Become a Nurse? 

In addition to being a rewarding career, working as a registered or advanced practice nurse can come with long-term professional and financial benefits:  

  • Salary and pay: On average, nurses (including advanced practice nurses) make between $70K-$150K per year depending on role, degree, location, and specialty.
  • Job security: The job outlook for nurses is expected to grow by 12% by 2028 and is above average for all occupations. 
  • Work-life balance: Becoming an RN allows you to work when and where you want; it is flexible and offers work/life balance. Many RNs work in hospitals, some work from home and others travel to new locations for short-term contracts. 
  • Job satisfaction: Nursing has been ranked the most honest profession for the past 18 years. Several healthcare careers, including nurse practitioner, were ranked as the top 10 best jobs of 2020

“I’m the only nurse who looks like me” 

Nursing was not Esteban Delagdo’s first career. Before becoming a nurse, Esteban had a biology career during the day and worked a second job as a part-time restaurant server. He knew he needed to make a change; “my main job was boring, non-personal, and made me feel isolated,” says Esteban. 

It was around this time when he met the CEO of Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Marilyn Margolis, RN, MA, NEA-BC. After chatting with her, he discovered that nursing combined his love for technology, biological sciences, and caring for others. Ms. Margolis told him he had great potential as a nurse. 

Prior to this discussion, Esteban had never considered nursing as the career path for him. Turns out, nursing was a perfect fit for Esteban. He went on to obtain his RN, BSN and is now a practicing nurse at Emory Johns Creek, as well as a doctor of nursing practice student at Emory School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia. 

As a Latino male nurse, Esteban says, “I was so used to being the only nurse who looks like me.” And while he has had an inclusive and positive experience at Emory—in part because of his own important advocacy work—this was not always the case in his health science career (and it is not the case system-wide). 

Nursing is Changing  

Nurses have been thrust into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re being shown in a positive light when, for years, our profession has been dogged by counterproductive stereotypes. For once, the media cannot avoid the reality of what nurses, do—we stay when everyone else runs; we stand guard at your loved one’s beds; we possess the strength to show love in the face of unthinkable personal risk. Arguably, for the first time, the heroism of real-life nurses is being recognized, and the old stereotypes are fading away.  

One stereotype about nurses that is slowly changing, but remains true today, is that over 90% of nurses are women. It’s time to change that by celebrating and supporting Latino men who want to join the nursing workforce. 

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