Healthcare is one of the fastest growing career fields, with 9 of the top 10 best jobs in medical fields, according to US News & World Report Rankings.  Even with unprecedented growth, especially during hard economic times, nursing is still highly skewed toward women, and always has been.  Why is this so?


florencenightingale-bwmugHistorically, nursing has been viewed as a profession for primarily women; in fact, the percentage of nurses who were males in the 1930s was less than 1%.  This resulted out of nursing achieving great transformation in the 1800s by Florence Nightingale, who established the first nursing schools in 1860.  During these times schools were prohibited from mixing male and female students; naturally, nursing became a female dominated profession.


In the media, we rarely see male nurses; when we do, they’re often portrayed in feminized, stereotypical Ben Stiller in Meet the Fockersroles. We all remember Ben Stiller’s strife in “Meet the Fockers” when he had to fight to earn respect from his girlfriend’s family after they learned that he was a nurse.  Even when we look at female nurses in the media, to quote Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health, “aspiring male nurses, like their female counterparts, have few role models to look up to on television.”


Jump forward to today’s cultural and economic climate, while there’s still room for improvement, the landscape is changing.  Men are finding jobs in nursing, and careers in all medical fields, at much higher rates.  For economical and societal reasons, more and more men are looking to medicine, nursing especially, to focus their professional energy.  In this article, we’re looking at the facts and figures, the reasons why, and the realities of being a male in a female dominated industry.


On the ground: Statistics and trends of males in nursing

Percentage of nurses who are males
Figure 1

Currently, there are 2.8 million Registered Nurses (RNs) and close to seven-hundred-thousand Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) in the United States. Figure 1 shows the percentage of nurses who are males over the past half of a century. Since 1970, we have seen the proportion of male nurses grow from 2.7 percent in 1970 to 9.6 percent in 2011. This is predicted to continue to grow as the societal and economic climate changes over the next few decades.


Why Would Any Man Want to be a Nurse?


Male nurse at nursing jobWe’ve all heard it: hospitals don’t want male nurses, no guy actually wants to be a nurse, nursing is challenging enough for a man, men aren’t compassionate enough for nursing – and on and on.  While old school thinking has us convinced of these stereotypes, they have actually all been proven to be untrue.  Nursing puts men (and women) in physically and intellectually stimulating and challenging positions. Men bring a new and exciting energy to a female dominated field. They bring diversity and new perspectives. The rewards are also endless, with more and more scholarship opportunities, excellent pay, and stability.


Men will also find more opportunities as we face the trouble of increasing nursing shortages in the U.S.  The large aging population in our country who depend on long-term end-of-life care will depend on filling the shortage with more nurses, more and more of whom will be men.


In addition, The American Assembly of Men in Nursing (AAMN) is encouraging men to enroll in nursing school, with a goal of increasing male enrollment in nursing programs to 20% by 2020.


Schools and hospitals are attempting to increase their male nurse population by placing targeted ads in publications and on websites that see more male users.  Also, The Oregon Center for Nursing undertook a recruitment campaign in 2002 titled, “Are You Man Enough to Be a Nurse?” which has recently brought attention to the fact that nursing is not the feminine-stereotyped field that it once was.


What’s it like working in a female dominated industry


With the changing landscape in the gender disparity in nursing, we still face a number of gender differences in nursing jobs. While more men are going to nursing school, they tend to drop out in greater numbers than women, which could be a result of gender discrimination, low numbers of male faculty, and feelings of being overlooked, undervalued or disrespected. With that being said, it is widely believed these biases are disappearing. After all, most nurses – and more importantly, most patients – don’t care whether a nurse is male or female, as long as they can do the job.


On the other side of the spectrum, when men go into nursing, they are more likely to be found in highly‐paid nursing occupations. Although women make up a disproportionate share of all nursing occupations, men’s representation is highest among nurse anesthetists. About 41 percent of nurse anesthetists are men, compared to 8.1% of men in nursing as a whole (nurse anesthetists earn more than twice as much as the average for all nursing occupations).


As far as the wage gap between men and women in nursing, women working full‐ time, year‐round earn 93 cents for every dollar men earn as registered nurses, 89 cents to the dollar among nurse anesthetists, 87 cents to the dollar among nurse practitioners, and 91 cents to the dollar among licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses.


The Future of Men in Nursing


As we’ve seen, nursing has only become more and more popular for men over the years.  With an increasing demand for nursing, and higher wages for medical careers across the board, we predict that the number of males in nursing will continue to climb – as a result, we can only hope that the stereotypes will fade away with time.