There’s no doubt that being a male nurse comes with its own set of challenges. In a largely female-dominated profession, men may find themselves facing stereotypes and discrimination, and they may find it difficult to find mentors and role models who can help them navigate their career. However, it’s essential that male nurses are able to overcome these challenges, as they play an important role in ensuring diversity in the profession and providing quality patient care.
This guide takes a detailed look at the challenges faced by male nurses and offers solutions, resources, and expert advice that can help them succeed in their nursing education and careers. With the right support, male nurses make a positive impact on the profession and the entire healthcare industry.
Challenge: You’re Outnumbered, Big-Time
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, male nurses make up only about 12% of the nursing workforce in the United States, up from 2% in 1960. While males are valued contributors in the nursing profession, this gender imbalance can present some challenges for male nurses, who may feel outnumbered and unsure about the best way to connect with their colleagues.
Thankfully, there are ways to overcome the hesitation that can come from being the only male in your class or on your team. If you’re a male nurse or thinking of becoming one, the steps below can enable you to succeed in your careers and help shape the future of nursing.
- You can draw on your unique perspective to stand out in the field. For instance, the male perspective can be an asset in providing care to male patients, as you can relate to their experiences in a way that female nurses cannot. You can also provide a male perspective to your fellow students, your team, and the nursing profession as a whole, which can be beneficial in attracting more men to the field.
- You can foster powerful connections with other male nurses to create a supportive network. Nursing is a demanding career, and it’s not uncommon to feel isolated, overwhelmed, or burnt out at times. Having a group of male nurses to rely on can make a big difference. Those connections can provide encouragement and advice and help you navigate the unique challenges of your career. In addition, those relationships can be a great source of camaraderie and friendship. Male nurses who form strong connections with other male nurses are more likely to thrive in their careers and stick it out for the long haul.
- You can mentor others and provide valuable insight and guidance to young men considering nursing as a career. You can help them navigate the challenges of nursing school and provide them with a male perspective on the profession. You can also be a valuable resource for those interested in learning more about male-specific health concerns. By serving as a mentor, you can help ensure more young men enter the nursing profession each year.
- You can be an advocate. You have a distinct outlook when promoting gender diversity. As a man in a predominantly female profession, you can provide a strong counterpoint to common stereotypes and misconceptions. In addition, you can use your experiences to advocate for greater inclusion of men in nursing careers. You can raise awareness of the benefits that male nurses can bring to the profession and break down barriers to encourage more men to enter the field.
Challenge: Stigmas Can Exist
Male nurses are an increasingly common sight in hospitals and clinics around the world. Despite their growing numbers, lingering myths still surround men in nursing.
For many people, nursing continues to be seen as a feminine profession, and this can make it difficult for male nurses to be taken seriously. In addition, male nurses often deal with sexist comments and jokes from patients and colleagues alike. There are also a few patently false stereotypes and stigmas surrounding male nurses.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at several gender stereotypes in the nursing profession and noted the following common stereotypes that still exist:
- It is assumed by some people that male nurses are gay. While LGBTQ people are represented in every profession and nursing is no exception, nursing doesn’t have a larger percentage of gay men in its ranks.
- Male nurses may be viewed as weak or effeminate. However, nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding career, and male nurses are just as capable as their female counterparts in both capacities.
- Male nurses are sometimes seen as less compassionate or empathetic than women. Again, this is untrue––nursing requires a great deal of compassion and empathy, qualities that many male nurses possess in spades.
- Men were told they make better doctors. In the past, men who were interested in working in healthcare were urged to become doctors, not nurses, because of their leadership and management skills. This can be debunked in several ways. Management and leadership skills are crucial requirements for nursing, for both men and women. Further, many men possess the attributes necessary to be a successful nurse including the crucial traits of warmth and understanding. Men bring a unique approach to the field of nursing and play an important role in providing superior patient care.
- Continue to work hard and provide excellent care. Over time, you can help change attitudes by proving that you are just as capable as your female comrades.
- Support men interested in pursuing a nursing career. By working together, you can help smash barriers that stand in the way of equality in healthcare.
- Stand up for yourself and others in your sphere of influence. If someone makes a joke or comment that makes you or someone you know uncomfortable, say so. There is nothing wrong with establishing clear boundaries on how people you work with treat you.
- Lovingly educate those you meet who buy into some of these outdated stereotypes. Knowledge is power, and as more people learn the reality of men in the nursing field and more men enter the nursing workforce, the faster these stigmas will fade away.
Challenge: You May Question Your Career Choice
There’s no arguing that nursing is a career often seen as more suited for women than men. However, male nurses are an essential part of the healthcare ecosystem and should be viewed as such. Not only that, but there are many benefits of choosing nursing as a career path, such as:
- Nursing offers a high degree of job satisfaction. Nurses have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of their patients, and they often form strong bonds with their patients and their families.
- Nursing provides a good work-life balance, and it is a field in high demand. With an aging population and an increasing number of people living with chronic health conditions, there is a need for more nurses.
- Nursing is a stable occupation. In the current state of the economy, many men are looking for careers they can depend on. Nursing positions often offer good job security and decent salaries.
- Nursing is a profession that can be both challenging and rewarding. Being a nurse is challenging enough that it will keep you on your toes, always growing and learning.
However, there may be certain points in your career when someone will question your choice to become a nurse over other medical career options, which might cause you to question this choice as well. What can you do when this self-doubt creeps in? Some of the solutions below may help you stand firm in your choice.
- Lean in and be proud and confident in your role as a nurse and caregiver. Nursing is a tough job, and not everyone is built for it. Be proud of the fact that you are and the difference you can make in the lives of your patients. And if you love your job, why does what anyone else’s opinion matter?
- Weigh the pros and cons. If you are still considering your options, comparing nursing against other potential careers you have an interest in may help. You might find that a career in nursing stands shoulders above the rest, which makes the challenges all the more worthwhile. This should be something you do before applying to nursing school.
- Remember your impact. Remind yourself that you get to be part of some of the most intimate and heart wrenching moments of people’s lives, and being a light in situations that may seem very dark indeed is quite rewarding. That’s no small thing in a world that sometimes seems full of darkness!
- Remember your value. The healthcare industry needs you, and so do your patients. You bring something different and uniquely you to the table. The more men that join the profession, the more those stigmas and stereotypes will fade away
As the healthcare field becomes increasingly diverse, the chances for miscommunication may also increase. One reason is because men are still a minority in the nursing profession, and there are instances in which men and women communicate differently. This can lead to misunderstandings between males and their female colleagues, as well as between male nurses and patients.
Another reason for miscommunication is that nursing careers are becoming increasingly specialized. This means that nurses often work with colleagues from other specialties with which they may not be familiar. Also, nurses who are new to the field may not yet be versed in the jargon and acronyms used by more experienced nurses.
There are also greater chances of miscommunication due to differences in communication styles. Some male nurses may not be accustomed to the way female nurses communicate.
Men tend to be more direct. This can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. Plus, nurses from diverse cultural backgrounds may have differing expectations about communication.
That said, though increased diversity can lead to more risks of miscommunication, it also offers an exceptional opportunity to learn from one another and create a more efficient and effective team.
- Working on your own communication skills: Learn how to do it effectively and in a healthy manner that shows consideration for those around you, no matter who you might be speaking to. When you take the lead in using good communication habits, others often follow.
- Language barriers may be an issue: If you struggle to understand someone you work with due to language barriers, make an effort to connect with another co-worker who can help you bridge the gap while you work on finding a common understanding.
- Take responsibility for your own shortcomings. Bone up on your industry jargon and acronyms, and take personal accountability in making sure you understand something. If you don’t understand, ask for clarification. It’s the only way to learn. Additionally, take responsibility for your communication mistakes and be willing to have open conversations around conflict resolution. We all have room to grow and learn from each other.
Challenge: Patient Preferences
Though male nurses are becoming more common, there are some patients who still prefer to have a female nurse. There are times when this may be for religious or personal reasons, but in some instances, it may be discrimination brought on by stereotypes. Other challenges include:
- Stereotypes. A lingering stereotype is that male nurses are more interested in the technical aspects of nursing, rather than the caregiving aspects. Or that men are not as empathetic or lack the right bedside manner. These are all stereotypes, but they don’t have to define your experience.
- Comfort levels. Some patients just feel more comfortable with a female nurse. This is not a reflection of male nurses, but rather a personal preference. They might be more comfortable discussing personal matters with a female nurse, such as medical history or personal hygiene, or be more comfortable being physically examined by a female nurse, whether it’s taking their vital signs or performing more in-depth examinations.
- Deeper biases. It’s unfortunate, but it does happen. It is part of any career and is something many people, especially those who are minorities in their field, will have to overcome at some point. The important thing to remember in these situations is that it is not about you. It is about the patient and their own issues. Try not to take these things personally.
Whatever the reason, male nurses should be prepared to deal with these types of situations and respect their patients’ wishes. Ultimately, a patient’s choice of nurse is a personal one.
- Honor your patient’s wishes, no matter the reason. Yes, it can be challenging if you know you are more than equipped to do the job, but every patient has the right to their own beliefs and preferences. Honor that and provide the best care possible, even if that means stepping aside to allow someone else to provide it.
- Evaluate your bedside manner and assess how your patients perceive you. Could a patient’s preference for a different nurse be due to the way you speak to or treat them? Sometimes it’s not about gender, but merely the patients desire to feel fully seen and heard amidst their fears and pain, and to feel comforted.
- Your patient could just need time to warm up to you. This could be true whether you are male or female as well. Many people who are in the hospital are out of their comfort zone on many levels. Uncertainties of being sick or in the hospital could fuel how they interact with you. You can make the process easier by asking their preferences and possibly offering to pull in a female nurse during initial interactions to help put them at ease.
Resources & Support Services for Men in Nursing
Male nurses are a vital part of the nursing profession. They bring their own insights to the field and can provide a much-needed male presence in an occupation largely dominated by women.
However, it’s easy for male nurses to feel isolated in their careers, and to struggle to find good help and support. Below is a list of essential resources to help on the journey.
- American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN): Looking to join a community of men who ensure the healing and wellbeing of others? Look no further than the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN). AAMN is a vital platform that gives male nurses a chance to come together, talk about their experiences as healthcare providers, and work towards creating positive change.
- The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN): A professional organization that represents nursing schools and programs across the United States, the AACN provides resources and information on scholarships and financial aid for nursing students.
- American Association for the History of Nursing (AAHN): Since 1978, the International History of Nursing Society has helped nurture and maintain an important part of nursing history. Open to everyone interested in exploring past developments, current issues and future trends within the profession, this professional organization is dedicated to preserving knowledge for generations ahead.
- The American Nurses Association (ANA): The ANA is a professional organization for nurses of all genders that offers resources, networking opportunities, and advocacy support. The ANA also provides scholarships and grants to help nurses further their education and career goals.
- American Red Cross Nursing History: The history of the American Red Cross is inextricably linked with nursing. For generations, their nurses have been at the forefront of delivering effective medical aid to those in need. Now, they’re paving a new path towards improved patient-centered care and furthering the industry’s understanding on how best to serve communities nationwide.
- Association for Nursing Professional Development (ANPD): ANPD is committed to transforming healthcare outcomes by advancing nursing professional development. Drawing on research, standards, and experience, their goal is to become a renowned and authoritative provider of best practices through webinars, journals, and conventions. ANPD’s commitment elevates quality patient care while building organizational excellence in nursing across the industry.
- Johnson and Johnson Nursing: Johnson & Johnson has a long-held dedication to caring for frontline health workers, and is taking extraordinary action by teaming up with allies to foster a vibrant nursing profession. Together, the goal is to create an inspired workforce equipped with the power to revolutionize healthcare.
- Journal of Professional Nursing: The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has published a professional journal that provides insight into the latest developments in nursing education. From shedding light on diversity to exploring successful online BSN programs, this publication is essential for staying current with trends and advances reshaping the field.
- Medscape: Medscape is the go-to destination for healthcare professionals looking to stay up-to-date on patient safety knowledge. With free membership, there is access to a wide range of offerings – including medical news and expert perspectives; point-of-care drug information; professional education opportunities, and more.
- National Black Nurses Association (NBNA): Since 1972, NBNA has been a powerful voice for African American nurses worldwide, both male and female alike. Representing close to 200,000 members in the US and abroad — including 111 chartered chapters across North America — this non-profit organization is dedicated to advocating for quality healthcare access among people of color around the world. Through continuing education programs and annual scholarships opportunities, NBNA works tirelessly towards achieving their mission: Excellence in nursing through collective action.
- National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR): A crucial part of a larger system dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of people everywhere, NINR provides access to clinical research for specific conditions, as well as fundamental studies focusing on overall wellness. Their website makes it easy to discover how they’re helping humanity lead healthier lives through information and support.
- The National League for Nursing (NLN): NLN is a professional organization for nurses that offers resources, networking opportunities, and advocacy on behalf of the nursing profession, and provides scholarships and grants to support the educational advancement of nurses.
- National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA): NSNA provides an invaluable opportunity for students of nursing to grow and develop professionally, offering guidance in key areas including standards, ethics, and practical skills. With over 65 years’ experience helping young people prepare for licensure as registered nurses, NSNA is a cornerstone resource on the path toward becoming a successful leader within your chosen profession.
- National Nurses United (NNU): With a legacy of over 100 years among its members, National Nurses United stands strong as the largest union and professional association for registered nurses in American history. The establishment of NNU marked an unprecedented movement that empowers direct care RNs to fight for better patient outcomes across the country.
- Nursing Ethics Blog: Nursing is a profession that carries many ethical considerations. From questions about the duties of nurses to their patients versus their employers, to exploring pay disparity and labor disputes – two Ph.D.’s delve deep into this complex field in an engaging blog.
- TravelNurseSource.com: This unique platform connects qualified but hard-to-find candidates with the best nursing opportunities posted by leading agencies in the field. As an added bonus, their site is packed full of helpful resources and tools for nurses and nursing students alike.
Interview with a Male Nurse
Walker LaFleur, RN, BSN is a nurse advocate with Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates and has been a nurse for more than nine years in both Florida and Washington state. He has acute care hospital experience and experience in an outpatient dialysis clinic. He most recently managed two dialysis clinics, overseeing a 50-person team in northwest Washington.
Q: Do you feel as though you are treated differently as a male nurse by staff or patients? How so?
I’ve been working as a nurse for the past few years and have experienced a lot of different attitudes toward male nurses. I think that, in general, people tend to treat us differently. For example, sometimes doctors seem more comfortable with us. We’re also often given high-acuity patients to care for, which can be really challenging, but is also rewarding. However, there are also some drawbacks to being a male nurse. People sometimes assume that we lack empathy or care. I’ve had patients tell me that they don’t want a man touching them or caring for them, which is really frustrating. It feels like people are automatically assuming the worst about us just because of our gender.
Q: Do you have an example experience you could share where you were treated differently for being male?
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a male nurse was being treated differently by staff and patients. It wasn’t always negative, but when it was, it could be quite disheartening. On one occasion, an elderly patient refused to let me take her blood pressure, because she assumed only women were nurses. On another occasion, I felt like my peers didn’t take me seriously, because they thought men couldn’t handle the emotional toll of nursing work. These experiences taught me that everyone has different preconceived notions about what nurses should be – and they don’t always match up with reality.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you think male nurses face right now?
One of the biggest challenges male nurses face is being taken seriously by staff and patients. Even though times are changing, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding men entering traditionally female-dominated fields like nursing. This can lead to male nurses feeling as though they need to prove themselves or be treated differently than their female colleagues.
Another challenge that male nurses face is having to confront gender stereotypes from both staff and patients alike. For example, it’s common for male nurses to be asked if they’re doctors or for patients to assume that their female colleagues know more about nursing than them just because of their gender. These types of assumptions can be disheartening, and make it difficult for male nurses to feel valued or appreciated for their work.
Q: Do you have advice on overcoming some of those challenges?
The key to overcoming these challenges is not allowing yourself to be defined by them, or worse yet, defined by other people’s perceptions of you based on your gender. Male nurses need to remember why they chose this profession in the first place, and focus on providing excellent care regardless of any negative comments or biases they may encounter along the way. Additionally, it’s helpful to have a supportive network of family and friends who understand the unique struggles you may be facing as a man in nursing and can provide encouragement when needed.
Q: Is there something you wish you’d known before becoming a nurse?
When I started my career as a nurse many years ago, there were very few resources available specifically tailored towards men in nursing, so I wish I had known about those before starting! Additionally, I wish I had known more about how to deal with the various biases and stereotypes I would encounter throughout my career, so I could have been better prepared for those situations when they arose. Finally, I also wish I had known how daunting and rewarding nursing would be, not only from an emotional standpoint, but also from an educational standpoint as well. Nursing has taught me so much about myself and others over the years, which has made me a better person overall.
Q: What advice would you offer to men who are just starting in their nursing careers?
My advice for men just starting their nursing careers is quite simple: Don’t let anyone discourage you from following your dreams. Nursing is a rewarding profession that offers great job security and plenty of opportunities for growth and development. Don’t be intimidated by any preconceived notions about gender roles. If you want to become a nurse, go for it! Additionally, find mentors who can help guide you through any obstacles you may encounter along your journey. Having someone who understands your unique perspective can make all the difference in achieving success as a male nurse.
Q: What’s the best piece of wisdom you’ve ever been given as you journeyed your nursing path?
The best piece of wisdom I’ve ever been given comes from my mentor: Never give up! No matter how challenging things may seem at times, it’s important to keep pushing forward; even if something doesn’t work out as planned today, there will likely be other opportunities down the road if you stay persistent and focused on your goals. This has served me well throughout my career as a nurse when things get tough (as they often do), this reminder helps me stay motivated and empowered to keep doing what I love most, taking care of people.