|Cheng Chi, a male nurse talks to a patient. (Photo/China Daily)|
Li and Yang are accustomed to working in the face of bigotry and ignorance. "We can't eliminate the prejudice, so we just ignore it," Yang said.
However, Sun, from the medical school, said many men are reluctant to tell people they are studying nursing, and many leave the profession after just a few years.
After graduation, two of Li's male classmates chose to move into medical sales, a popular choice among male nursing graduates, according to insiders.
Sun believes the move into sales was partly prompted by the prejudice shown by patients and their families. "Also, salespeople earn much more than nurses", she said.
The Hefei First Hospital Group, which has four branches across the city, employs 1,704 nurses, but only 15 of them are male. Reading the list of names, Yang said 13 are married, including him, and at least 11 of the couples were college classmates.
The number of classmates who have paired off indicates the problems faced by male nurses.
"Finding a girlfriend is easy, but winning the approval of her parents can be quite tough," said Yang, whose opinion was echoed by male colleagues, such as Li, who believes male nursing students can benefit from studying a female-dominant major "because they can easily find a girlfriend".
He added that if a male nurse doesn't find a girlfriend at school, he might find it difficult to find one after graduation: "Girls often think nursing isn't a job for men. Their parents' prejudices are no different from those of other people."
Wu Xufeng, assistant to the head nurse in the Hefei Hospital's intensive care unit has faced that problem. "We have all taken great pains and spent years trying to finally win recognition from girls' parents," he said.
His wife Peng Zhangxia, who is also a nurse at the hospital, believes that prejudice against male nurses is really discrimination against all nurses.
"Many people consider nursing simply as serving patients. Well, sometimes they do treat us like servants, because they regard nursing as a low-status job, and they take it for granted that men should have better career options than women," she said.
Pan Aihong, director of the hospital's nursing department, said public perceptions of male nurses are outdated and flawed: "Nursing is far more complex than giving jabs and dispensing medicine. Male nurses have their own strengths; for example, undertaking labor-intensive work, handling emergencies and operating sophisticated machinery."
She believes male nurses are more suitable than females in a number of areas, including intensive care, elderly care, emergency rooms and male genitourinary departments.
The peak time for male nurses at the Hefei First Hospital Group was 2015, when 19 men were employed. In the two years that followed, though, four quit. "Three moved to medical-equipment sales," Yang said.
Sun, from the medical college, was sanguine: "Roughly 50 percent of male nursing students will find employment post-graduation, but a few will still quit the profession sometime in the future."
For Cheng Chi, a male nurse in the rehabilitation center at the Hefei Hospital, commitment is the most important attribute male nurses can have. "Money is not everything. For those of us who decide to stick with the job, the hardest thing we have to face is prejudice," he said..
As the national family planning policy now permits most couples to have two children, it's expected that a rising number of female nurses will take maternity leave, a situation that would make male nurses even more popular, according to Pan. "Even though the hospitals need more male nurses, we just don't have enough applicants," she said.