Wu Xufeng (right) treats a patient in the intensive care unit at the Hefei Binhu Hospital, Anhui province. (Photo/China Daily)
Traditional views and prejudice are discouraging men from entering the nursing profession.
Suo Xiaolong, a sophomore majoring in nursing at Hefei Vocational and Technical College, is busy preparing for a provincial nursing skills contest later this month.
The college, based in the capital of Anhui province in East China, first allowed male students to enroll in 2002, but this is the first time a male student has been chosen to represent it at the competition.
Fewer than 100 of the 3,000 students on Suo's three-year course are male, but even so, he is an exception among his peers because he had set his heart on a career in nursing before entering college.
"Most of the other boys didn't choose the major; they were adjusted to it," said Sun Meilan, vice-president of the college's school of medicine.
According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, by the end of 2002, there were 1.25 million nurses in China, but just 1.7 percent of them were men. By the end of 2014, the numbers had climbed to 3 million and 1.9 percent, respectively.
During a seminar last year, Cheng Gen, director of the Male Nurse Committee, founded in 2014 by the Chinese Nursing Association, estimated that the percentage of male nurses in 2015 would be no different from the previous year.
Suo is confident about his future career prospects because his tutors have emphasized that the employment rate for male nursing graduates is high. However, no matter how high his level of skill, the 23-year-old will still have to contend with traditional notions that nursing is not a suitable profession for men.
In 2002, Li Shen was one of the first four male nursing students to enroll at the college in Hefei. Three years later, he became the first male nurse to be employed by the Hefei First Hospital Group.
"Patients who have been here for some days know I'm a nurse, but it's still embarrassing that new patients often think I'm a doctor. Sometimes, they just don't understand how a man can work as a nurse," he said.
In 2004, during their last year at college, Li and his three male classmates were sent to a local hospital as interns. The experience was frustrating because some of the patients refused to allow them to administer injections and demanded female nurses do the job instead.
Yang Bin has experienced similar embarrassment. He worked as a nurse in a hospital in Shanghai from 2007 until 2011, when he moved to work at the Hefei Binhu Hospital, a branch of the Hefei First Hospital Group, in the city's Baohe district.
"After graduating from a vocational college in Anhui, I went to Shanghai, because I thought people in a developed city would be more open to male nurses. That wasn't always the case," said Yang, who hails from a rural county close to Hefei.
He is now one of two head nurses in the hospital's elderly care department, and the only man among 80 nurses.
Last year, a survey conducted by the Chinese Nursing Association showed that 52.45 percent of the 5,939 male nurses who responded didn't think nursing was a reputable job, while 27 percent said they found it unrewarding.