Just Call Us Nurses: Men in Nursing

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


August 16, 2012

In This Article

The Male Nursing Workforce

Every 4 years, when the population of registered nurses in the United States is surveyed, we are rewarded with a snapshot of the nursing workforce -- who they are and where they work. Naturally, this survey incorporates both men and women. However, because more than 90% of the survey respondents are women, the picture ultimately reflects women in the nursing workforce. What does the male nursing workforce look like? Who are the men in nursing, and what challenges do they face?

A common belief about men in nursing is that men prefer certain fast-paced specialty areas, such as critical care or the emergency department. Although the reasons are not entirely clear, there seems to be some truth to this assertion. The employment profile of men who work in nursing differs from that of women. Nearly 76% of men work in hospitals, compared with 61% of women, and pronounced differences exist in some job titles.[1] Men constituted 41.1% of nurse anesthetists at a time when men represented only 7% of employed nurses in the United States.[1]

An online survey[12] of 500 male nurses conducted in 2004 provides additional data on the male nurse population. Although the generalizability of such a survey can be debated, these findings draw attention to many of the issues faced by men in nursing today.

The top 3 specialties reported by men were critical care nursing (27%), emergency nursing (23%), and medical/surgical nursing (20%). In addition to the staff nurse role, men reported working as middle managers (19%), directors (10%), educators (15%) and nurse practitioners (10%). The specialties reported by the fewest respondents were obstetrics/gynecology and nursery/neonatal intensive care.

Because men are not often encouraged by others to choose nursing, the career paths that brought them into nursing are of interest. Only 20% pursued nursing school directly from high school. Twice as many men (44%) found nursing after another career, and 17% after military service.

What do men like about nursing? The rewards of nursing, as viewed by men, are similar to what women might say: helping people and making a meaningful contribution to society. Pragmatic rewards that were highly rated by these men were career mobility, geographic mobility, and financial security. No doubt, most women would agree.

Respondents were asked their opinions about why men might hesitate to pursue a career in nursing. Barriers cited by respondents included stereotypes (73%), the concept that nursing is a traditionally female profession (59%), and a preference for more "male-appropriate" careers (53%). Family and cultural influences on the decision to become a nurse were cited by relatively few men, although families rarely consider nursing as a career for their sons. As one respondent said, there is a "fear of being considered less than manly."

Men encounter challenges being accepted into nursing both in school and in the workplace. The difficulties created by the cultural adaptation required for entry into a female-dominated work setting were evident in the responses. For about half of men, this difficulty was a consequence of being a "gender minority" within a traditionally female profession.

Similar numbers of men felt that they were used as "muscle" by their female colleagues. Another major difficulty encountered by men was the belief that men are not "caring." Other challenges cited by respondents were being considered unsuitable for select nursing specialties, such as obstetrics/gynecology, and reactions and reluctance expressed by some female patients about having a male nurse. Communication issues with female nurses were reported by 48% of respondents. Many men reported problems with being viewed as "failed doctors," being passed over for promotions, and sexual harassment.

When men were asked to share their opinions about why more men are not attracted to the nursing profession, the top reason was that nursing was viewed as a female occupation. Other issues were stereotyping of male nurses as gay, low salaries, few role models for men, and a lack of awareness about what nursing really was. Most (82%) respondents believed that misperceptions about men in nursing exist and need to be overcome.


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