The term “male nurse” is not one that has received much appreciation or recognition. Instead, it is often the subject of jokes and outright derision. After all, isn’t nursing a woman’s job? Indeed, 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 fifty years ago, they are still in short supply and their presence in the field is much needed.
Nursing as a Feminine Profession
As gender norms are continuously pushed onto the population, it can be difficult to see certain professions as encompassing of all genders. Men are CEOs; women are receptionists. Men are professors; women are kindergarten teachers. There are certain aspects of the job that make it more suitable for a woman or man that is leaning into 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 the nurse to be a female, it is associated with typically feminine traits. Gentleness, nurturing, caring, softness – all of these traits are associated with both women and nursing. Because men are thought to not exhibit these characteristics, nursing has been an unrealistic profession for them.
This, however, leads 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 2011, that number had risen to 9.6%. While the number is still small as a whole, the growth is incredible, and it seems to be growing even faster. There have been pushes recently, 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.
Trends in Male Nursing
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 just weren’t enough jobs for young people when they were of an age to enter the workforce. The health industry, however, was adding more jobs. This made going into nursing school a logical choice for many young men looking for an occupation.
What we see, now, however, is that there is now a disproportionately larger share of men in the higher-paying nursing occupations. For example, 41% of nurse anesthetists are male compared to that overall average of just under 10% 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 we don’t have enough. With nursing still a predominantly female career, it’s time to remove the barriers that are preventing men from joining the profession. The false idea that men can’t 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 don’t “settle” for a simple nursing career. While it’s 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.