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According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “… it is essential to have a nursing workforce that will reflect the population of the United States so as to deliver cost-effective, quality care and improve patients’ satisfaction and health outcomes…” The American Association of Colleges of Nursing adds, “…diversity in the nursing workforce provides opportunities to deliver quality care which promotes patient satisfaction and emotional well-being.” But despite imperatives such as these, we still find a large gender discrepancy in nursing demographics. Statistics from the American Nursing Association show that just 11% of licensed nurses are male. Other sources put that number at just 9%, and research suggests that gender bias in nursing education could be playing a role. According to a study published in Nursing Education Today, implicit gender discrimination in nursing education can affect how female and male students are graded on short-answer or essay exams (the types of tests with room for subjectivity in grading). In the study, the researchers looked at how students’ grades changed depending upon whether instructors were blinded or un-blinded to students’ gender. The instructors in the study graded the exams once and then two months later were asked to re-grade them after the identities of the students had been hidden. The results showed that when instructors knew they were scoring a male student’s exam, he tended to score lower than when the instructors were blinded to his gender. The opposite was true among female students’ exam scores – their grades generally went up when instructors were aware of gender and down when they were not. Granted, this was a small study including just eight nursing school instructors and 400 exams, but certainly the results are worth noting – especially by anyone involved in nursing education. Bias in our nursing education can result in negative feedback to male students, affecting nursing school retention rates and discouraging men from pursuing nursing careers. Additional research in Nurse Education Today sheds more light on the situation.
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