As much as it may surprise some readers to learn, men have served as nurses since ancient times. According to an article published on AllNurses.com, the first nursing school is said to have been founded in India in 250 B.C., and men went on to provide nursing care during an outbreak of the bubonic plague in third-century Egypt and in military units and religious orders thereafter.
During the American Civil War, male nurses served on the front lines of battle, and while their participation diminished and women gradually came to predominate the field over the coming century, men have continued to serve in this role at different points for the past century and a half. More recently, the U.S. Census Bureau has tracked a significant increase in the percentage of men in nursing, rising from 2.7 percent of registered nurses in 1970 to 9.6 percent in 2011.
Attracting More Men to Nursing
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) believes that a diverse nursing workforce is critical in the 21st century, and such diversity certainly includes men. In a 2011 article entitled Male Nurses Break Through Barriers to Diversify Profession, registered nurse Randy Jones, Ph.D., who is both an associate professor of nursing at the University of Virginia and an RWJF nurse faculty scholar, explains that “[m]ale patients ... may feel more comfortable discussing certain conditions, especially those related to sexual and reproductive health, with other men than with women.”
And Vernell DeWitty, deputy director of the RWJF’s New Careers in Nursing program argues that “[m]en are urgently needed in the profession for another key reason … : a looming nursing shortage that is projected to grow to 260,000 nurses by 2025, according to a 2009 article in Health Affairs.”
RWJF addresses some of the misconceptions and barriers for men in nursing. Among other influences, male nurses who were surveyed indicated they had been affected by common cultural beliefs that the profession is not “appropriate” for men (although these respondents entered the field anyway).
Such misconceptions are, in part, spread by the media, according to The Truth About Nursing, a website that critiques media portrayals of nurses. One example of these stereotypes comes from the popular "Meet the Parents" movie trilogy, in which Greg Focker, a male nurse, fends off suggestions that he is an unfit mate because of his career choice.
In an effort to combat such outdated beliefs and to diversify the nursing workforce — and specifically to increase the number of men who enter the field — RWJF has set aside 38 percent of its New Careers in Nursing scholarships for men. Meanwhile, organizations like the American Assembly for Men in Nursing provide advocacy, recruitment, and positive images of men who choose nursing as a career path.
Preferred Specialties for Male Nurses
In August of 2012, Medscape published an article highlighting men in the field. Conventional wisdom holds that men tend to choose “fast-paced specialty areas, such as critical care or the emergency department,” and the labor figures cited seem to bear this out. A larger percentage of male nurses work in hospitals compared to their female colleagues — 76 percent to 61 percent, respectively — and 41 percent of nurse anesthetists were men, although only 7 percent of the overall nursing workforce is male.
Other specialties that men frequently chose included:
- Critical care nursing
- Emergency nursing
- Middle management
Meanwhile, men are least likely to enter the areas of gynecology, obstetrics, and neonatal intensive care.
A Personal Account
My nursing career began just before my 30th birthday. As a father and husband, I wanted to pursue a profession that would allow me to earn a good living while simultaneously giving back to my community. Having already worked as a home health aide and massage therapist, nursing offered a logical career choice that would provide flexibility and room for professional growth.
From the start, I was committed to avoiding hospital-based settings; I’ve successfully forged a 20-year nursing career in ambulatory care, home health, hospice, and case management. Most recently, I’ve broadened my professional experiences into blogging and writing about nursing, creating a popular nursing podcast, and establishing a platform to offer career coaching to nurses.
Although men who practice in this profession may occasionally face a certain level of skepticism for entering what is still viewed as a “female” occupation, I’ve found my career to be highly fulfilling. More often than not, when I announce what I do for a living, I’m greeted with declarations of how wonderful and respected nurses are in our society.
In my view, nursing is a profession currently experiencing a renaissance. Advanced practice nurses are making enormous gains in terms of scope of practice and ability to deliver care without the supervision of a physician. Meanwhile, many nurses find that they are able to apply their nursing skills and knowledge in entrepreneurial areas, such as independent consulting or coaching for hospitals, insurance companies, and other organizations.
Recent studies show that male nurses earn significantly more than their female counterparts, and there are anecdotal reports that men may rise more easily into managerial, supervisory, and executive positions. For my part, I may also have benefited from “male privilege” during my nursing career, receiving promotions, raises, and a current position as a chief nursing officer that a female nurse also thoroughly deserved. These are unfortunate disparities that must be addressed; men in nursing can push back against these inequities by advocating for the rights of all nurses and serving as mentors and role models for other nurses, both male and female.
Despite the stereotypes, the jokes, and the common misconceptions, my experience as a nurse has been stellar. The profession has afforded me a remunerative career for several decades, and given me the satisfaction of serving society in a tangible way.
The nursing profession is poised for enormous growth and expansion in the 21st century. Men who are in search of a satisfying, exciting career should consider nursing as a viable option that offers stability, flexibility, room for advancement, and the pride that accompanies giving to others.
Addressing new challenges facing nursing education: Solutions for a transforming healthcare environment. (2010, March 1). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from Human Resources and Services Administration.
Expanded Roles for Advanced Practice Nurses. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
Highlights in the history of the army nurse corps: Chronology. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015.
Male nurses break through barriers to diversify profession. (2011, September 28). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Men in nursing historical timeline. (2005, February 5). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from Allnurses.
Men in nursing occupations: American community survey highlight report. (2013, February 1). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from U.S. Census Bureau.
Rovner, J. (2015, March 24). Even in female dominated nursing, men earn more. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from Kaiser Health News.
Stokowski, L. (2012, August 16). Just call us nurses: Men in nursing. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from Medscape.