TRADITIONALLY, NURSING HAS BEEN EQUATED WITH CARING, COMMITMENT AND OTHER QUALITIES USUALLY ASSOCIATED WITH FEMININITY, GIVING ROOT TO MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT MEN IN NURSING. YET HISTORY TELLS US THAT THE FOUNDATIONS OF CARING AND COMMITMENT ORIGINATED IN MASCULINITY.
In as early as Roman times, the Parabolani Brotherhood was an organization of men who risked their lives coming in contact with the sick. Working with victims of the Black Plague during the third century, these male nurses not only visited the sick at home but started a hospital in the area. The book “Hypatia” by Charles Kingsley tells their story.
Plagues of all types aroused the fear of death. Caring for the sick became associated with religious fervor, with illness initially viewed as too severe for female participation. Community-focused monasteries and the celestial rewards associated with caring for the sick gave rise to the mendicant orders of male nurses. The most renowned of these nurses was St. Francis of Assisi. The Franciscans, also known as the Order of Friars Minor, were men devoted to caring for the sick and financially impoverished. They built hospitals and "schools of nursing" that trained men committed to the patient and the Order.
Likewise, St. Dominic organized an Order of Preachers who were religious men later trading in their pedagogical robes for the uniform of the nurse. Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon and St. Thomas Aquinas, famous male nurses originating from both Franciscan and Dominican foundations, helped care for the sick, develop experimental sciences and treat illness.
The Alexian Brothers, a Roman organization of male nurses, also cared for those tormented with the bubonic plague. Their numbers have grown to the extent that their hospitals are known nationwide and, at one time, the Alexian Brothers' Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago was the largest male nursing school in the United States.
In post plague years, renewed activity in nursing remain rooted in religious orders. At that time, illness was associated with penance for wrong doing. In the 16th century, the Brothers of Mercy, also known as the Brothers of St. John of God, originated in Spain. Unlike the previous male nursing orders discussed, this group was composed of laymen rather than religious men and worked without a rule until 1570. Their work with the sick in a variety of settings spread to Germany, Italy and Paris. At the same time in Italy; St. Camillus established the Order of the Camillan Fathers and Brothers who took a special vow to work in nursing.
While nursing was not connected with a specific religious affiliation, both men and women gained spirituality in working with the sick. Male orders of nurses, which grew more rapidly than female orders, influenced community nursing, hospital nursing and nursing education as we know them today. They helped move the profession into the areas of higher education previously reserved for other disciplines, yet somehow their contributions and impact were minimized with the 18th century transition of women into nursing. The monastic and mendicant orders of male nurses set a standard and example of commitment and compassion for female counterparts to follow.
Remind your male colleagues of the contributions made by others like them when female nurses were the minority and male nurses the majority.
Published in Nursing Focus, Jan/Feb 97, p28
For more information see "Men In Nursing" on Wikipedia (www.Wikipedia.org) and visit the link below.