Men in Nursing Expert Insight and Resources for Breaking Gender Barriers

Nursing has a history of being a female-dominated profession, but more and more men are choosing to enter the field, as it affords a wide array of career opportunities. Get information and inspiration for men who are considering pursuing this rewarding career path.

Nursing is expected to be 90 percent female in 2016, yet the opportunities for men in nursing are growing, from bedside care to management to research. The following guide has been written by Keith Carlson, an expert in the field, and offers valuable information, firsthand insight, and resources to help men who are interested in becoming a nurse.

Men in Nursing: Fact vs. Fiction

Common stereotype There are very few male nurses
  • Fact about male nurses

    According to the US Census Bureau, in the 1970s, men comprised only 2.7 percent of all registered nurses in the US; February, 2013 US Census Bureau data, however, showed that men comprised almost 10 percent of all RNs. This number is even higher in specific nursing roles, such as nurse anesthetist positions, where 41 percent are men. Meanwhile, the number of male nurses within the military is rising in all branches of the armed forces.

    Additionally, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System reveals that the number of men completing RN associate and bachelor degree programs has steadily increased since 2004 (with a dramatic increase in the early 1990s before a temporary drop).

Common stereotype Nursing is not a respectable career for men
  • Fact about male nurses

    As members of the nursing profession, men enjoy a high level of respect within the healthcare industry, as well as within the larger society. While old beliefs about nursing being a profession solely for women are still relatively prevalent, acceptance of male nurses is indeed growing.

    With the coming of age of the Millennial generation, gender roles appear to be less restrictive. It is expected that Millennial men may be increasingly willing to embrace a career that is traditionally labeled as “female”.

    Additionally, when it comes to pay and advancement, men nurses seem to be outpacing women. Despite nursing being 90 percent female, studies show that male nurses earn more than their female brethren. Additional evidence shows that, on average, men rise more quickly than women into positions of authority and management within the nursing profession. While these are unfortunate realities that certainly need to change in terms of gender equity, it underscores the fact that men are accepted and successful members of the profession.

Common stereotype There aren’t enough nursing jobs for men
  • Fact about male nurses

    As the 21st century advances, the need for nurses will likely far outweigh outmoded gender bias against men entering the profession. As the country ages, the need for qualified healthcare professionals will only continue to grow, especially for those with interest and skill in geriatrics, Information Technology, and other key areas of nursing specialty. Nineteen percent projected job growth for registered nurses between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, supports this optimistic view.

Common stereotype Women are better nurses because they’re naturally caring
  • Fact about male nurses

    Anecdotal evidence shows that male nurses demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence and compassion. One would also expect that men who choose nursing as a profession in the first place are men who have a natural propensity for caring, nurturing relationships. However, genuine human connection is one of the most crucial aspects of the nurse-patient relationship, and men are equally capable of creating positive, nurturing, and emotionally healthy connections with patients.

Common stereotype Nursing isn’t for “real men”
  • Fact about male nurses

    Men’s physical strength can be a benefit in areas of practice such as medical-surgical nursing, flight nursing, and rehabilitation. Since physical strength, stamina, emotional stability, and calmness and quick thinking in the face of trauma are characteristics traditionally perceived as “masculine”, most men will feel (and be perceived as) useful and effective within the nursing world. Additionally, men often prefer task-oriented work, and nursing provides many areas of practice where the task-oriented male nurse can thrive and succeed.

    In the military, the number of male nurses is steadily rising far more quickly than in the civilian workforce. Most sources show men as representing between 30 and 35 percent of all nurses within most branches of the United States armed forces, more than three times the percentage for civilian nurses.

Shaking Up Stereotypes

Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, stereotypes and stigmas have followed men who chose to enter nursing as a professional career. Many may not know, but nursing was historically male-dominated prior to the 1900’s. It was the 20th century that saw a major demographic shift towards a largely female profession, with only a smattering of men choosing nursing as their calling.

In recent decades, the percentage of the profession comprised of men has risen, and continues to do so, albeit relatively slowly. This growing number is due to the fact that more men see nursing as a viable professional career that offers great flexibility, opportunity for learning and advancement, and a plethora of choices in terms of specialization and areas of clinical and non-clinical focus. And as the autonomy of nursing practice expands, opportunities for men expand as well.

As older generations with more rigid notions of gender give way to younger, less conservative generations, there will likely be less stigma around men in nursing, opening the doors for more men to find satisfying careers in the nursing profession.

Top Nursing Careers for Men

While men can be found in almost every nursing specialty, there are certain areas of practice known to attract a larger percentage of male nurses. For instance, the US Census Bureau documented that more male nurses are often found in higher paying nursing jobs, such as nurse anesthetist roles. Evidence also suggests that male nurses are generally drawn more readily to the ER, ICU, CCU, flight nursing, and other physically demanding and clinically challenging positions.

Below is a closer look at a few of the top nursing careers for men:

  • Nurse Anesthetists

    Sometimes also referred to as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), this nursing professional is responsible for the administration of anesthesia, and related services, before, during, and after a medical procedure. Data shows that 41 percent of nurse anesthetists are men.

    Average annual earnings:

    $162,000

    Expected job growth:

    31 percent between 2012 and 2022

  • Emergency Room RN

    Emergency room RNs, sometimes also called Trauma Nurses, work specifically in the emergency room and/or critical care emergency facilities of a hospital or medical center to care for patients in severe pain and with possible life-threatening traumas. These nurses work closely with doctors and emergency medical technicians.

    Medial salary:

    $68,546

    Expected Job Growth:

    20 percent

  • Flight/Transport Nurse

    Flight nurses are trained RNs who provide pre-hospital, emergency, and critical care to patients during aeromedical evacuations, rescue operations, and other situations that call for the transport of patients via helicopter or aircraft.

    Medial salary:

    $74,855

    Expected Job Growth:

    19 percent

Male Nurses in the Armed Forces

The number of male nurses in the military is steadily rising far more quickly than in the civilian workforce. Most sources show men as representing about a third of all nurses within most branches of the United States armed forces.

Within the armed forces, men serve in many nursing roles, including but not limited to:

  • Public Health Nurse
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Emergency Room Nurse
  • Operating Room Nurse
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Medical-Surgical Nurse
  • Rehabilitation Nurse
  • OB/GYN Nurse
  • Perioperative Nurse
  • Psychiatric/Behavioral Health Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

It is difficult to clearly ascertain the reason why the percentage of male nurses is higher within the military as opposed to the civilian workforce, yet inferences could be made regarding decreased stigma about nursing based on the historical role of male nurses serving within the military over the centuries. According to Military OneSource, the American armed forces are approximately 15 percent female, thus this higher male census of recruits and active soldiers would translate into a higher percentage of males choosing a nursing career within the military.

One can also imagine that the military is highly efficient in identifying recruits’ individual areas of strength and interest, and capitalizing on those strengths by channeling recruits into areas of special training. With recent changes in the military structure (e.g. women being welcomed into most every combat role as of early 2016), it is clear that gender roles within the military establishment are shifting.

Reshaping the Nursing Field

Historically, nursing was a field populated solely by men. Beginning with nursing roles within religious orders, and leading to frontline battlefield nurses during Civil War combat, men were central to the field for centuries.

At the beginning of the 20th century, however, the Army Nurse Corps was formed, and men were banned from participating in the program. Further loss of standing for men within nursing occurred during both World Wars I and II; with a shortage of available males, women were heavily recruited into the profession, and nursing fell out of favor for men until demographic and societal shifts in the latter portion of the second half of the 20th century.

Men provide a diverse perspective within the nursing profession, bringing their own skills, strengths, and motivations to the table. Some patients may be more comfortable receiving certain types of care from male nurses, thus the presence of men on a hospital unit can be an advantage for both staff and patients.

With an expanding number of female physicians in the healthcare space, patients of all generations are becoming increasingly aware of changing gender norms within the healthcare system, and throughout society as a whole. While some older patients may still hold fast to traditional gender norms of employment, younger generations are more amenable to diversity and the breaking down of cultural norms vis-à-vis gender roles and occupational choices.

In an effort to reshape the profession more quickly, the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) has launched a 20 x 20 campaign, a recruiting initiative to increase male enrollment in nursing programs to 20 percent by 2020. In contrast to past nursing recruitment campaigns, this campaign is designed to minimize gender image and instead focus on knowledge and competencies for men in the nursing profession. The AAMN continues to advocate for the expansion of roles for men within the profession, as well as the active recruitment of men into nursing careers.

Additionally, organizations such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing support the proactive diversification of the nursing workforce in the interest of a strengthened profession that more closely mirrors the general population, and more readily addresses the diverse healthcare needs of that population. They include the recruitment of men in their views on nurse diversity.

Breaking Barriers: Interview with Sean Dent, RN, MSN, CCRN

Sean Dent has been a nurse since 2005. He is an acute care nurse practitioner with over 20 years of experience in healthcare. Sean is a popular nurse blogger at My Strong Medicine and the host of The Change of Shift Podcast.

What made you want to be a nurse?

I was absolutely flabbergasted at the impact that he could have on a human being by simply paying attention and showing that he cared.

For me, it was a personal experience as a patient. About 12 years ago, I was injured and hospitalized for 2 days. I was cared for by a female nurse and a male nurse, and my experience of the two could not have been more different.

I was there for a strictly musculoskeletal problem and pain management, so I wasn’t actually sick. To say that the female nurse neglected and judged me would be kind; I was seriously neglected by her. Meanwhile, the male nurse took the time to acknowledge my problems and learn more about me. He was a male nurse, and that seemed highly unusual to me; second, he was African American. He truly broke the mold for me in multiple ways.

At that point in my life, I thought that all nurses did was pass pills and clean up poop; he told me about the different jobs he’d had, how he’d worked in the OR, PACU, and as a travel nurse. I was absolutely flabbergasted at the impact that he could have on a human being by simply paying attention and showing that he cared. That was a pivotal moment for me; that gentleman did more for me than he’ll ever know.

As soon I got home from the hospital, I decided to research local nursing schools. I applied right away, began my prerequisites, and within two years, I was in nursing school. I never looked back.

Do you feel that there’s still a stigma towards “male nurses”?

It’s about the person, not their gender.

I would agree that there are still a number of common stigmas against men who are nurses.

The first stigma is that men aren’t emotionally equipped for caring. The male nurse who took care of me 12 years ago demonstrated that a man could be as caring—sometimes even more caring—than a woman; it’s about the person, not their gender. Over the years, I’ve proved my worth as a nurse; I’ve had patients thank me for the care I’ve provided, and that’s enough validation for me.

Patients can also sometimes make comments like, “You’re so smart; why aren’t you a doctor?”

Another stigma is that we’re hired for our muscles, not our brains. While men can sometimes be physically stronger than women, there’s the opinion that our strength is the only good reason to have us around. I’m a fit guy, and it’s impossible to hide my physique, so I do joke about it. That said, in every work environment where I’ve ever served as a nurse, I’ve never felt that I was there simply for the manual labor. It’s a standard joke where I work, but it’s nothing more than a joke. I feel valued.

A frequent comment made about men is that they probably became nurses because they weren’t smart enough to get into med school, or they thought that med school would be too hard. Patients can also sometimes make comments like, “You’re so smart; why aren’t you a doctor?” In response, I usually say, “I chose to be a nurse; it wasn’t something that I settled for. I wanted this, and I also chose to advance my career and become a nurse practitioner. I’m a nurse because that’s the career I wanted.”

A stigma strengthened by the media is that men who go into nursing must be gay. Like I said, men can be as caring as women, and being gay is not what makes a man caring or compassionate; it’s the person that he is. I actually met my wife in nursing school when we were classmates, and we were married six months after graduation!

When I began my career, I would be offended and angered by some of these judgmental questions and comments. Now I just think it’s comical, and I no longer need to prove anyone wrong.

What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a man in the nursing field?

I remind them that they’re not a male nurse, they’re a nurse.

For many men, it’s the stigmas, but they just don’t matter to me anymore. A lot of male nurses and nursing students contact me for advice about fighting these stereotypes, and my response is that there’s no reason to address the elephant in the room if it isn’t really there in the first place. I remind them that they’re not male nurses; they’re nurses.

Some men in nursing are offended when a female patient refuses them as a nurse because they don’t want to receive care from a man. I used to get offended, as well, but then I realized that it’s about the patient’s care, not yours. You should care enough about the patient to realize that it’s not a personal issue. We care for patients at the most vulnerable and scary times of their lives, so we need to do whatever we can to make sure they feel cared about, even if it means not being their nurse.

What advice would you give to other men who are thinking about entering the nursing profession, but may be hesitant to do so for various reasons, including perceived stigma?

Other healthcare professionals don’t enter the field based on their gender.

If you can approach the profession of nursing as a unisex career decision, you’ll never go wrong. If you think you’re better or worse than another nurses because of your gender, or you think you can move up the career ladder faster than them, you’ve chosen our profession for the wrong reasons.

Other healthcare professionals don’t enter the field based on their gender; a man or a woman doesn’t enter med school because of their gender. Ask yourself why you want to be a nurse. Becoming a nurse should have nothing to do with being male or female; it has to do with who you are as a person.

Beyond the Classroom: Tips for Male Nursing Students

When it comes to education, there are no “male-specific” or “male-friendly” nursing programs – students are studying to become a nurse, period. There are however, a few things male nursing students can do to make the most of their education and overcome gender stereotypes and biases.

If a man wants to take inspired action in terms of pursuing a nursing career, here are some actionable steps in that regard:

  • Interview, connect with, and shadow a variety of men (and women) in the nursing profession who you look up to and admire

  • Consider finding a mentor who can guide you through the process of entering the nursing profession

  • Listen to podcasts and read blog posts about nursing and nurses

  • Follow salient social media feeds about nurses and nursing, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn; get involved in some of those conversations

  • Research local nursing programs and their prerequisites

  • Tune into conversations occurring in dedicated nursing groups on LinkedIn and Facebook

  • Use social media and local connections to begin building a robust professional network, even before you begin school

  • Find graduates of local nursing programs and ask them about their experience

  • Join student and professional nursing associations and organizations

  • Consider attending related conferences or seminars, even before you enter nursing school

  • Meet with board members of your state’s nursing association in order to understand the current reality for nurses in your area

Scholarships for Male Nurses

There are myriad scholarships available for nursing students, but many are not specifically for men. All nursing students, men or women, are encouraged to seek out and apply for appropriate scholarships throughout their academic careers. Nonetheless, below are a few existing scholarship opportunities dedicated to men in nursing:

  • AAMN Foundation Student Nurse Essay Contest

    Sponsoring organization: American Assembly of Men in Nursing

    Amount: $500 each for 6 applicants

    Applicant must be a current member of the AAMN.

    Applicant must be a male pre-licensed student enrolled in a licensed nursing program leading to NCLEX-RN eligibility. Applicant must have completed at least one academic term in a nursing program. 500-word student essay: “Describe the characteristics and qualities that men in nursing should possess.”

  • AAMN Foundation Student Nurse Essay Contest

    Sponsoring organization: American Assembly of Men in Nursing

    Amount: $1000 each for 2 applicants

    Applicant must be a current member of the AAMN.

    Applicant must be a male pre-licensed student enrolled in a licensed nursing program leading to NCLEX-RN eligibility. Applicant must have completed at least one academic term in a nursing program. 500-word student essay: “Describe the characteristics and qualities that men in nursing should possess.”

  • Henry Dunant Scholarship for Male Nursing Students

    Sponsoring organization: Henry Dunant Scholarship Committee

    Amount: Not available

    This private scholarship was created to offer help to undergraduate male nursing students currently enrolled in an accredited nursing program.

    Applicants must be able to prove acceptance into an accredited nursing program and submit a 1-2 page essay on the history of men in nursing. Henry Dunant: Henry Dunant (1928-1910) was a founder of the International Red Cross and 1901 Nobel Peace Prize winner who organized, funded, and provided nursing care to the wounded of both sides after the Battle of Solferino in 1859.

  • Jadeh Marselis-Moore Student Nurse Essay Contest

    Sponsoring organization: American Assembly of Men in Nursing

    Amount: $500

    Applicant must be a current member of the AAMN.

    Applicant must be a male pre-licensed student enrolled in a licensed nursing program leading to NCLEX-RN eligibility. Applicant must have completed at least one academic term in a nursing program. 500-word student essay: “Describe the characteristics and qualities that men in nursing should possess.”

  • MurseWorld Student Nurse Essay Contest

    Sponsoring organization: American Assembly of Men in Nursing

    Amount: $500

    Applicant must be a current member of the AAMN.

    Applicant must be a male pre-licensed student enrolled in a licensed nursing program leading to NCLEX-RN eligibility. Applicant must have completed at least one academic term in a nursing program. 500-word student essay: “Describe the characteristics and qualities that men in nursing should possess.”

Resources

American Assembly of Men in Nursing

The AAMN is the only nursing association specifically for men. Their states purpose is “to provide a framework for nurses, as a group, to meet, to discuss and influence factors, which affect men as nurses.”

American Men’s Studies Association

The American Men’s Studies Association “advances the critical study of men and masculinities by encouraging the development of teaching, research and clinical practice in the field of men’s studies. AMSA provides a forum for teachers, researchers, students, and practitioners to exchange information and to gain support for work on men and masculinities.”

Discover Nursing: Men in Nursing

Dedicated page on the website of Johnson and Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future.

Hodes Research Men in Nursing Study (2005)

A study whose purpose was “to more clearly articulate issues around the reasons for the small percentage of men in nursing”.

Male Nursing Scholarship Blog

Helpful website for researching and identifying appropriate academic scholarships and resources.

Minority Nurse: Men in Nursing

One page on the MinorityNurse.com website is dedicated to men in the nursing profession.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2011 article on men in nursing

“Male Nurses Break Through Barriers to Diversify Profession”

Nursing Associations

Similar to scholarships for nursing students, there are very few nursing associations specifically for men. All nursing students are encouraged to join local, state, regional, national, and international nursing associations that are most salient for their careers. As needed within those organizations, specific campaigns and initiatives can be brought forth in the interest of the future of men in the nursing profession.

American Assembly of Men in Nursing

The AAMN is the only nursing association specifically for men. Their states purpose is “to provide a framework for nurses, as a group, to meet, to discuss and influence factors, which affect men as nurses.”

The Longhorn Association for Men in Nursing

From the LAMN website: “The Mission of The Longhorn Association for Men in Nursing (LAMN) is to foster nursing education, facilitate unity among our future colleagues and leaders in nursing, encourage men to consider nursing as a career, promote a positive image of men in the field of nursing, and provide a social and educational environment for both male and female nursing students.”