Male Nurses Are Still in Short Supply

The term “male nurse” is not one that has received much appreciation or recognition; the term is often used in a derogatory way. Unfortunately, many men are looked down on for choosing a profession that is majority female. However, it is becoming clear that while there are now more men in nursing than there were even twenty years ago, they are still in short supply and their increased presence in the profession is much needed.

Nursing as a Feminine Profession

Gender norms are deeply ingrained into human societies, and it can be difficult to comprehend certain professions as encompassing of all genders. Especially when some professions are “traditionally” held by one gender. There can certain aspects of a job that make it more suitable for a woman or man that is creating those gender norms.

For hundreds of years, nursing has been seen as a women-only profession. While there is nothing about the job that requires nurses to be a female, it is associated with typically thought of as feminine traits. Gentleness, nurturing, caring, compassion, selflessness – all of these traits are associated with both women and nursing. Because men are thought to not exhibit these characteristics, nursing has been a nontraditional profession for them.

This, unfortunately, can lead to the assumption that male nurses are less manly or more feminine than their non-nurse counterparts. If they possess nurturing qualities, they are seen as less than other males. While the nurturing quality that nurses possess is essential to the profession, it is not indicative of how masculine or feminine a person is.

Male Nurses Now

The number of male nurses is growing. In 1970, the percentage of working male RNs was at 2.7% of all nurses. By 2022, that number has risen to 12%. While the number is still small as a whole, the growth is incredible and there are more men in nursing that ever before. There have been campaigns, coming from within the industry, to have a higher percentage of male nurses join the workforce in an attempt at diversification. In a 2010 report called The Future of Nursing: Leading Health, Advancing Change, the Institute of Medicine even insists that the nursing industry focus on recruiting more men. It has also been discovered that there is huge disparity between the numbers of men and women in nursing education, with fewer than 4% of faculty and deans being male.

Currently, the number of male nurses is on the rise. This is mainly due to the recession that was experienced in 2008 in the United States. When the recession hit, many male-centric jobs like construction and factory work started suffering. There were not enough jobs for young people when they were of an age to enter the workforce. The health industry, however, was one of the few professions adding more jobs. This made going into nursing school a logical choice for many young men looking for an occupation.

However, what is seen now is that there is a disproportionately large share of men in the higher-paying nursing occupations. For example, 41% of nurse anesthetists are male compared to that overall average of just 12% for all nurses. These men are making upwards of four times what a licensed practical or vocational nurse would make. This is wonderful, but there is still a need for male practical nurses.

The Future of Male Nursing

While there are more men in nursing than ever before, it’s clear that there are still not enough. With nursing still, a predominantly female career, it is time to remove the barriers that are preventing men from joining the profession. The untrue idea that men cannot be as compassionate or empathetic as women is a stereotype that plays a big role in the lack of men in nursing. Another incorrect notion is that “real” men become doctors and do not “settle” for a simple nursing career. While it is true that most doctors are men, there is nothing that makes nursing a “less-than” career option. It should be treated as the admirable profession that it is.

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Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads is a registered nurse and a nurse educator. She earned a BSN from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and an MS in nursing education from Northern Illinois University. Jenna earned a PhD in education with a concentration in nursing education from Capella University where she researched the moderation effects of emotional intelligence on the relationship of stress and GPA in military veteran nursing students.