McClelland, Molly, and Vanessa Lee

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine the perception of nursing discipline, which disciplines are considered a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) profession and if those perceptions vary by age, culture, gender or previous experience with a STEM professional.  

Background: Nursing has been included as part of the NIH BUILD grant, yet discrepancies exist about nurses being perceived as research scientists. Currently, fewer than 1% of nurses have a doctoral degree (Feeg et. al., 2011). The nursing profession is said to have long suffered from public stereotyping and from being closely associated with femininity and powerlessness (Takase et al.,2002).

Methods: A mixed method approach was implemented. Adult participants (age 18 and over) who self-identifed as American, Canadian, Kenyan or from Hong Kong were asked to complete a questionnaire designed to determine perception of nurses as scientists. Survey results were collected and analyzed quantitatively using SurveyMonkey, an online survey questionnaire. Interviews were conducted and interpreted using qualitative methods.

Results: A Chi-Square statistical analysis revealed no significant difference between how various cultures view health professions as STEM disciplines. Nurses were predominately perceived as being part of the STEM disciplines but not scientific. Nurses were viewed as “less scientific” than perceived chemists, physicians or other people in safety googles, labs coats and beakers filled with colorful fluids.  Nurses were viewed as less scientific than other health-related professions.  Registered nurses were perceived as more scientific than nursing professors.

Conclusion: The discipline of nursing suffers from negative public perception and media coverage suggesting nurses are not intelligent, hand-maid to doctors or sexual playthings.  More work is needed worldwide to educate the public on the scientific education and practice of the discipline of nursing.