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Men in a 'women's' world

(Global Times)

08:58, September 29, 2011

Nurse Tian Ye checks the drip rate in an IV tube at Huadong Hospital.

For Chen Zhijie's first birthday, his family organized an old Chinese ritual. Chen was asked to grab one of the carefully-prepared objects on a table, including a pen, scales, a ruler, money and a stethoscope. The object he would pick up would predict his future career. Chen chose the stethoscope.

"I like medical treatment," said Chen, now 22. Chen is an intern at Ruijin Hospital. However, his choice of career did surprise his parents: he is interning as a nurse, not a doctor. Two years ago, Chen chose nursing as his major when he entered junior college. He stood out among the other students as males account for only 4 percent of all the nursing students in the college.

The question Chen answers most is why he chose to enter the nursing profession. "Why can women enter a traditionally male-dominated industry but men can't enter an industry that traditionally employs women?" Chen said. "Would anyone ask a woman why she wants to be a doctor, a cop, or a CEO?"

Chen's attitude perhaps was not understandable 20 years ago. In 1985, the Nursing School of Shanghai Medical University (later merged with Fudan University in 2000) first opened its doors to males. However, each of the first five male students ultimately furthered their studies and became doctors after graduation.

In 1990, the school enrolled another two male students. However, when they became sophomores, both of them transferred to other majors. "These boys didn't choose the major out of interest. They wanted to use nursing as a springboard to become doctors," said Li Yin, director of the students' office of the Nursing School of Fudan University.

In 2001, the Nursing School of Shanghai Jiao Tong University enrolled its first 16 male undergraduates. All of them were offered jobs in first-class hospitals as soon as they graduated. The great demand for male nurses soon made nursing an option worth considering among male students.

The ratio of male nurses increased from less than 0.1 percent in 2005 to 0.80 percent this year. But the figure still lags far behind developed countries. In the UK, male nurses accounted for 11.20 percent of all nurses in 2010. In Australia and the US, male nurses accounted for 10.70 percent and 9.40 percent respectively in 2009.

In Shanghai, male nurses mainly work in comprehensive hospitals, children's hospitals and mental institutions. District hospitals and community health centers rarely recruit male nurses. According to the head nurses of Ruijin Hospital and Huadong Hospital, two first-class hospitals in Shanghai, the lower income and social status as well as the high turnover has led to a shortage of male nurses in China.

Most comprehensive hospitals don't think the recruitment of male nurses is a major priority, said Li Yin. Because of the high turnover, they must consider whether these male nurses can bring enough benefits to cover the cost of training and other allowances before they are recruited.

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