|A group of male nurses pose for a photo at the Hefei Binhu Hospital (Photo/China Daily)|
According to Sun, the lack of applicants can also be attributed to the fact that female students usually perform better in exams than males.
"Most hospitals in China are State-owned. In most cases, applicants have to pass certain exams to get into them", she said, adding that special provisions have been put in place to encourage more men to join the profession.
"As a result, a local hospital had to reserve 10 "male-only" nursing positions in 2015," said Sun, who is proud that three graduates of her college gained employment by passing exams, and not through a quota system.
Pan is hoping for a surge in applicants, but said her hospital can do nothing but wait. She doesn't believe that preferential treatment will remedy the shortfall.
"To insist that a certain number of positions are reserved for men could easily prompt concerns about gender discrimination, but we should at least treat male nurses well to make sure they are willing to stay in the profession," she said.
Sun said there are no official public policies to encourage more men to study nursing, but attitudes will change and men will flourish in the profession.
"Just wait until all the deeply-rooted prejudice is eliminated," she said.
A common goal achieved by stealth
A group of male nurses found it so difficult to win the support of their prospective parents-in-law that they resorted to tricks to gain their approval.
Among the 15 male nurses employed by the Hefei First Hospital Group, 13 are married, and at least 11 of them are married to college classmates, according to Yang Bin, a male nurse from the Hefei Binhu Hospital, in the capital of Anhui province.
"Nursing is often considered not to be a good job for men, so we all faced opposition from our prospective parents-in-law," he said.
When Yang worked at a hospital in Shanghai from 2007 to 2011, he invited his girlfriend's father to dinner, and also invited his boss and a number of colleagues.
"During the dinner, the father learned from my colleagues that I was a good man and that nursing is not as bad a job as he had imagined," Yang said.
Wu Xufeng, a male nurse in the intensive care unit at the Hefei Binhu Hospital, recalled the first time he met his mother-in-law.
She was running a clothes store, so one day Wu visited the store and pretended to be a customer. He behaved very properly, discussed some of the items for sale and generally made a good impression.
After Wu had left, his girlfriend went to her mother and told her who the young man was.
Wu said the informal meeting boosted his confidence for a formal meeting with his girlfriend's mother later on.
Li Shen, who in 2005 became the first male nurse to be employed at the Hefei First Hospital Group, said he had been troubled by the strong opposition displayed by his parents-in-law for the first couple of years.
"I realized that I would not able to persuade them, so I chose to avoid meeting them. Years later, when they realized their unmarried daughter wasn't getting any younger and there was no way to break us up, they just had to accept me," he said.
"I made the choice (not to meet them) because I had no choice."
Zhang Jianjian, a male nurse who has experienced similar embarrassment, said the perceived low status of men in the profession often causes problems.
"If nursing wasn't considered a low-level job for men, it would be easier for us to get along with the parents of our wives and girlfriends," he said.
First person: 'I rarely have contact with my female colleagues'
I have been working as a male nurse since 2007. When I was in college, there were 62 girls and just five boys in the class. Now, I am the only man among 80 nurses in the elderly care department at the Hefei Binhu Hospital.
Friends joke that being around so many female colleagues must be very cool, but I often feel embarrassed about it.
As one of two head nurses, I find that it requires great patience to make the female nurses listen to me, and I also think it's a good idea to steer clear of office politics.
I rarely have contact with my female colleagues after work. That feeling is shared by the 14 other male nurses in the Hefei First Hospital Group, with which the Hefei Binhu hospital is affiliated.
The work schedule is a big obstacle to social activities, anyway. My working hours change every few days, between 8 am to 4 pm, 4 pm to 12 pm and 12 pm to 8 am.
Some of my friends complain that they never know when I will be at work.
The 15 male nurses know each other well and we keep close personal contact outside of work.
The Male Nurses Committee was founded by the Chinese Nursing Association in 2014. Since then, local organizations have been founded in some provinces, but there is no official organization in Anhui yet.
To raise the profile of male nurses, I proposed founding the Hefei Union of Male Nurses, which won support from the hospital group and my 14 male colleagues.
We want more male nurses from the city, and even the province, to join us, but so far, only the guys from my hospital group have become members. Well, at least there are enough of us to form teams for basketball and soccer matches!