Men in Nursing: A Rising Demand

  • Benjamin Caleb Williams
  • |

Traditionally, nursing has been considered primarily a woman’s job, and in 1970, less than 3% of nurses were men. While there are several reasons that nursing has primarily been viewed as a woman’s job in the past, one of the more significant reasons is that nursing has been viewed as a job that requires nurture and care, qualities that have traditionally been thought to be more feminine. Because of this stereotype, nursing has been viewed by some, especially by older generations, as not being “manly”.

Male Nurse

12%

of registered nurses were men in 2019

More recently, the number of men in nursing has increased, as the concept of men in nursing has become mainstream. In fact, 12% of registered nurses were men in 2019 – a fourfold increase from half a century earlier. In some specialties of nursing, as many as 41% of nurses are male. The percentage of men in nursing is increasing and will likely continue to increase for the foreseeable future, which is great news for hopeful male nurses.

While the number of men in nursing has continued to increase, the distribution of men in the field does seem to be affected by the stereotype of females being more “nurturing”. Fields that require a more personal and nurturing type of nursing care, such as medical/surgical floors, rehab, and pediatric nursing, still tend to have lower percentages of men than other specialties. The areas of nursing that require more technical knowledge and care and less of a nurturing environment, such as ICU and ER nursing, tend to have higher percentages of male nurses. While the stereotype of men in nursing is fading, it does seem to still be affecting how men choose their nursing specialties.

Why is There a Rising Demand for Men in Nursing?

There are many reasons that men are becoming in higher demand in nursing, but the main reason is the balance that men bring to the profession. Any team or profession typically functions better when there are a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds. Nursing is no exception and with 88% of the profession being female, nursing, as well as the patients being treated, will benefit from continuing to have more men.

Aside from the balance perspective that men can bring to the nursing field, there are some other reasons for the increased demand for men in nursing. Some patients prefer to be taken care of by men. Younger or middle-aged men especially may feel uncomfortable having a woman assist them with personal care. The significant others or spouses of these patients also may prefer for their care givers to be male. Having men available to assist patients can provide a better experience for certain patients.

Another area that some believe make men a good addition to a nursing team is the area of physical strength. While not always true, men do tend to have more upper body strength than females. This can make men who are nurses more useful in helping to move and lift patients, and can make others view them as more equipped to assist with patients who may be physically aggressive.

Should Men who are Considering a Nursing Career Expect a Negative Stereotype?

When my wife told her grandfather that I graduated from nursing school, he just laughed. But I think there are more men who are less afraid to take on what have traditionally been considered feminine roles.

One of the biggest gender-related concerns that men can have about entering a nursing career is if they will be the subject of negative stereotypes or if people will assume that they are not “manly”. This stereotype was certainly present years ago, but has faded greatly in the last few decades. John-Flor Sisante told the New York Times, “When my wife told her grandfather that I graduated from nursing school, he just laughed. But I think there are more men who are less afraid to take on what have traditionally been considered feminine roles.” It’s very rare that patients will mention that they have a “male nurse” or ask gender-based questions that could be considered derogatory.

There are a few reasons that the stereotype that men should not be nurses has almost completely disappeared. One has been a cultural emphasis on decreasing the rigidity of gender roles in the workplace. Mostly, the focus of this cultural shift has been directed at improving women’s participation in traditional male careers or occupations; however, this shift has also helped people to better recognize that men can also provide meaningful benefit in roles that were traditionally female. In fact, The America Association for Men in Nursing (AAMN) created the 20 X 20 campaign aimed at increasing the male enrollment of nursing education programs. The AAMN also recognizes colleges across the country for “making significant efforts in recruiting and retaining men in nursing, in providing men a supportive educational environment, and in educating faculty, students, and the community about the contribution men have and do make to the nursing profession.”

Another reason that this stereotype has faded is that while some people still tend to view nurturing and caring to be a more feminine trait, nursing has developed as a profession. Nursing several decades ago was primarily about providing basic care and medical treatment, and nurses didn’t play much of a role in the medical decision-making process. The medical profession used to be more authoritarian, where the doctor would make the decisions and the nurse would ensure these decisions were carried out. In modern times, the healthcare team is more collaborative, and the nurse has a larger part in assessing patients and recommending treatments. While this has not decreased in any way the nurturing and caring aspect of nursing, it has developed nursing to focus on a greater variety of responsibilities, making the profession not solely focused on the more “feminine” traits.

With the changing attitudes of the public and a societal outcry for career equality for both sexes, men interested in a nursing career shouldn’t feel held back or discouraged. The role of men in nursing is sure to continue its increase in the coming years, making the profession more balanced and ultimately benefiting the patients that nurses serve.

Benjamin Caleb Williams

Meet The Author

Caleb is an Ivy League-educated nurse consultant with a strong clinical background, including supervisory positions within ICU and ER settings. In addition to his clinical work, Caleb practices as an expert nurse consultant and nurse writer, having written hundreds of healthcare-related articles and blog posts. He is a member of the Emergency Nurses Association and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and holds multiple advanced certifications in emergency and trauma nursing.

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