Historically, both men and women, usually members of religious orders, provided nursing care to the sick and dying. But as nursing education improved, it was offered predominantly to women. Florence Nightingale believed nursing was a natural extension of women’s roles as caregivers, and began educating female nurses in the mid-1800s. Victorian constraints prohibited mixing male and female students, so men’s access to nursing education grew more limited. And since nursing was considered “women’s work,” its lower salaries and status encouraged few men to pursue the profession.
The percentage of male nurses dipped to its lowest point in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, falling to about 1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2009 indicated that approximately 5.8% of nurses in the U.S. are men.
A Place For Men In the Nursing Field
Now, in the U.S. and around the world, women dominate nursing. But more men are entering the field, particularly as a result of a troubled economy and the well-publicized shortage of nurses in the U.S. Men are being welcomed, encouraged and supported to pursue nursing like never before. Nursing schools and hospitals are actively recruiting men through marketing campaigns, increased media attention and social media outreach:
- The American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) is encouraging men to enroll in nursing school, with a goal of increasing male enrollment in nursing programs to 20% by 2020.
- Recruiters for schools and hospitals are placing targeted ads in publications and on websites that see more male users.
- The Oregon Center for Nursing undertook a recruitment campaign in 2002 titled, “Are You Man Enough to Be a Nurse?” which has recently been the focus of new attention.
Gradually, the image of nursing as a women-only profession is changing. Efforts like these are helping fill the continuing demand for trained nurses in the United States.
Do Men Face Disadvantages in Nursing?
While stereotyping exists in nearly every area of society, the days of calling someone a “male nurse” could be coming to an end. After all, few people still use the term “female doctor.” On the other hand, modern culture’s depiction of men who are nurses can be negative. Remember the film “Meet the Parents”? The main character, played by Ben Stiller, is a nurse who is continually picked on by his fiancé’s father. A negative image of men as nurses prevailed throughout the film.
Despite troubling images in pop culture, it’s become more socially acceptable for men to choose a nursing career and enroll in nursing school. However, they tend to drop out in greater numbers than women, for reasons that are not yet clear. Some may feel gender discrimination; nursing schools often have few or no male faculty members. Others may feel overlooked, undervalued or disrespected. Luckily, it is widely believed these biases are disappearing. After all, most nurses – and more importantly, most patients – don’t care whether a nurse is male or female, as long as they can do the job.
Nursing is a Diverse Profession
With more effort by nursing schools, hospitals and their fellow practitioners, nurses can overcome the gender bias that has pervaded the profession since the early 1900s. Change is happening: updated nursing textbooks and brochures present both men and women working as nurses. Patients are becoming more accustomed to having both male and female nurses and stereotypical language against any particular group is becoming less tolerated in more areas of our society.
Nursing is a rewarding and challenging career for people of either gender. Nurses also enjoy opportunities to move up the ladder into management, transition into educating future nurses, or to specialize their practice, by augmenting their skills and knowledge with advanced education.
Men enter the nursing profession for the same reasons as women: they want to care for people who need help, they like the complexity of the occupation, and they appreciate nursing’s job security and the possibility of earning a good income. As the numbers of men entering the nursing field continue to rise, we can look forward to the day when “male nurse” is a long-forgotten term.