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Patients Asking About “Man in Pink”

Posted November. 11, 2006 04:25,   


At the emergency room of Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul on November 9 at 3:00 p.m., a man in a pink uniform was checking a traffic accident victim’s condition, who had just arrived the hospital in a gurney. He assessed the victim’s breathing and had a brief conversation with a female nurse. After finishing emergency procedures, he took a breather and made a joke to a male doctor. His outfit was different from the white gown that doctors typically wear and from the uniforms of the female nurses.

One patient’s family even stopped a female nurse and asked her, “Is that man a doctor or a nurse? Who on earth is he?”

He is an emergency nurse by the name of Lee Song-ro (27), and he started working at the hospital in November of last year. Since the financial crisis in 1997, the popularity of a stable job has soared and as a result, the number of male nurses has increased gradually every year to 1,092 in 2005 from 460 in 2000. Although the figure is still only 0.51 percent of the entire number of nurses (212,200), the number of male nurses is on a rapid rise.

However, since the number of male nurses is still relatively small, they often find themselves playing an ambiguous role between a doctor and a female nurse. And thanks to such a vague role, they also become a coordinator between doctors and female nurses.

Male nurses call themselves “marginalized.” They say that they often have experiences that most people hardly encounter when their identities that are both mainstream and on the fringe cross one another.

“Who are You?”-

Mr. Lee feels most embarrassed when patients have no idea who he is.

A few days ago, Mr. Lee took care of an emergency patient in his 40s all day long. That night, the patient asked Lee a question that he had in his mind for so long. “Who…on earth are you?” The patient later said, “It was so weird because an unidentified man who doesn’t look like a doctor kept taking care of me.”

Sometimes these male nurses are treated as if they were invisible. In a ward of 30 bedrooms, two male nurses once happened to work on night duty together, and family members of patients went to the information desk, angrily asking, “Why isn’t there a single nurse on the ward now?

A Marginalized Person between Man and Woman-

Among the 1,200 total nurses at Samsung Medical Center, the number of male nurses is only 34. Since male nurses are so few, their “masculine” existence is often ignored.

Lee Jeong-jae (27), a male nurse at the hospital’s Stoke Center, laughingly said, “ I feel my sexual identity is confused when senior female nurses tell jokes like, ‘We should let Jeong-jae walk the wedding aisle with a guy soon,’ or ‘Jeong-jae, did you make a bridal gift registry?’ However, Mr. Lee, who started working at this hospital last March, is no stranger to this mischievous atmosphere because he had graduated from nursing college as the only male out of 34 students.

The head nurse of the emergency room at the same hospital, Jeon Do-jin (36), has also had similar embarrassing experiences. Once when he wrote a notice on the whiteboard in the dressing room, he felt someone was in the room with him, so he looked back only to find a female nurse taking off her clothes, casually saying, “How are you doing?” Mr. Jeon said, “I was puzzled because female nurses do not seem to view me as a male at all. And I think that is because females are the absolute majority here.”

A Coordinating Role Played by a Marginalized Person-

The true value of male nurses can be really appreciated when conflicts arise between doctors and nurses. Since the majority of doctors are men and the majority of nurses are women, once conflict is raised, it often takes a lengthy amount of time to be resolved. This is due to the absence of a dialogue channel between men and women to candidly talk each other. Moreover, when doctors or nurses start to make an argument about their complaints against each other, it easily leads to a bigger fight.

Mr. Lee said, “Male nurses get along well with male doctors, like brothers, so we can resolve the conflict smoothly by listening to each other’s opinion while having a drink together.”

Choi In-ah (36, female), an emergency room nurse of Asan Medical Center, also talked about the merits of male nurses, saying, “A few patients who treat female nurses badly abruptly change their attitude when they realize there are male nurses, too. So the presence of male nurses makes us feel safe.”

Since male and female nurses take on difficult work together, they easily feel attached to each other, and many of them become a couple. In the past, male nurses were staffed in special divisions of a hospital such as anesthesia, kidney dialysis and surgery, but now they are evenly staffed across the entire hospital, including in the general ward. What they do does not differ from female nurses’ work, either.

Mr. Jeon expressed his frustration, saying, “Many people have a prejudice about male nurses; that we are only doing the works that require our physical strength such as carrying patients, or imagine us as a big man in a psychiatric ward.

He continued, “I wish patients or readers will view us not as men who are nurses but as nurses who just happen to be men. Since the number of male nurses is currently soaring, the day when male nurses are treated strangely will be over soon.”