Just Call Us Nurses: Men in Nursing

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


August 16, 2012

In This Article

Why So Few Men?

The reasons that men might be reluctant to pursue a career in nursing range from the personal to the societal. Remedies might be found more easily for some of these obstacles than for others. For example, evidence suggests that men are induced to seek careers in nursing during times of economic recession, but when the labor market improves, these gains are lost as men seek jobs elsewhere.[4]

Another reason for the slow growth in the male nurse sector is their higher attrition rates from nursing. According to the National League for Nursing, in 2011, men made up 15% of enrollments to nursing programs,[5] 8% more than are found in the current workforce. What is happening to the rest of these men between enrolling to nursing school and becoming established in the nursing profession?

Attrition from school is not the only problem. Some men abandon their new nursing careers relatively quickly, a trend that has been noticed in the past. In 2002, Sochalski reported that men were more likely than women to leave nursing within the first 5 years after nursing school.[6]

This fact, if true, is particularly disturbing, because it would imply that men who have jumped the biggest hurdle -- society's bias against men going to nursing school -- are encountering additional, often unanticipated barriers to fulfilling their goals. To explore this further, I turned to Chad O'Lynn, Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, and coauthor of Men in Nursing: History, Challenges, and Opportunities.[7]

"Getting men to consider nursing as a career is not difficult; that's Marketing 101," says O'Lynn. "You can get their attention. It's keeping them in school that is the difficult part."

O'Lynn confirmed that indeed, men have higher attrition rates from nursing education programs, as well as from early nursing careers. "We don't have good data on attrition rates, but we have anecdotal data telling us that attrition is higher among men. Rates as high as 50% have been reported. I even know of a school of nursing that experienced 100% attrition (7 out of 7 men) of their male nursing students. It raised some eyebrows."

Unfortunately, attrition isn't the only issue. The probability of failing a course is also higher in male students, says O'Lynn.


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