Snapshot: This article reviews demographics of men in nursing, and provides an overview of challenges for men in nursing, in addition to strategies, a history of men in the profession, and some recommended resources.
Men in Nursing: An Overview
- Men remain in the minority, but are slowly growing in numbers. Today, about 9% of all nurses are men; this is increased from less than 3% in 1970. What’s more, about 15% of all nursing students are currently men, so the number of male nurses is set to grow further.
- Men concentrate in certain nursing specialties and environments. ER, Trauma, and ICU settings all have a disproportionately high percentage of nurses who are men, as do Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities, and the U.S. Armed Forces. Men are also more likely to be in higher-earning specialty fields, such as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA’s), where over 40% of nurses are men.
- Men in nursing face unique challenges, and enjoy unique opportunities. Being male in the nursing profession is neither “good” nor “bad,” nor uniformly advantageous or difficult. That said, like other minority groups, men in nursing face a somewhat different and arguably a broader array of challenges in comparison with women.
- Unfortunately, some men must contend with disapproval, negative stereotypes or inaccurate beliefs from friends or family when they choose to pursue nursing. This may include assumptions about sexuality (i.e. that all or most men in nursing are gay, which is false), and beliefs about career roles and ambition (i.e. that men are ‘naturally’ more suited to be physicians).
- Men in nursing must also cope with sexual stereotyping regarding their desire or ability to be caring, and in some cases, suspicion surrounding intimate touch by male nurses.
- At the same time, men in nursing may reap advantages, both from their status as a minority in nursing, and from their status as men in a male-dominated society. For instance, men in nursing may be treated more as peers than as subordinates by physicians, some of whom may be inclined to value the beliefs and opinions of men above women.
- Men may also be treated as special, or unique, by colleagues and by patients, and may be better able to avoid, or to ignore, inter-work conflicts among female nurses.
- Finally, men may ‘stand out’ to managers or superiors, who may assume that men in nursing are uniquely desirous or able of ‘moving up the latter’ and receiving promotions. In this way, men in nursing can benefit from the negative gender stereotyping that women face in professional settings generally.
How to Help
No matter who you are, and regardless of your gender, there are things you can do to help men in nursing. In so doing, you can help to improve the nursing profession as a whole.
- Treat men as equally caring, and equally competent. Men are just as capable of women as being effective caregivers as women, and the minority status of men in nursing doesn’t make them ‘less than’ their female counterparts.
- Try to avoid the term “male nurse” when referring to men in the nursing profession. A nurse is a nurse – whether male or female. If this seems unimportant, consider how it would make you feel to hear a woman referred to as a “female doctor,” instead of simply a “doctor,” like anyone else. Why should men in nursing expect anything less?
- Be an advocate for fair and equal treatment. Whether in the classroom or in clinical settings, if you hear others disparaging the ability or value of men in nursing, speak up and gently offer a different point of view. Attitudes change when people realize that the seemingly ‘dominant’ opinion they express is based on ignorance, misunderstanding, or simply prejudice.
- If you’re a friend or family member, be supportive. Those closest to men in nursing can be an advocate for their role and goals. Like everyone, men in nursing are most closely affected by the individuals closest to them in their daily lives.
- If you’re a faculty member or clinical instructor, treat your male students with the same respect and expectations as female students. Don’t segregate men in the classroom, and try to use academic and clinical scenarios that include and recognize men in a variety of nursing roles.
- If you’re a patient, treat a man who happens to be your nurse with the same courtesy and expectations you would a female. Don’t assume he is your doctor (or wants to be your doctor), and treat him with the respect you would anyone else so that he can do his job.
The History of Men in Nursing
- Men have a long and distinguished history in nursing. In fact, it wasn’t until relatively recently, about the year 1900, that nursing became a female-dominated profession. Throughout most of human history, men served as nurses, often out of necessity in the midst of wars and epidemics. Here are a few highlights, starting with the distant past:
- When one of the world’s first schools of nursing was founded in India in about 250 B.C., only men were admitted because women were not considered “pure” enough to pursue nursing.
- In ancient Rome, the nosocomi were men who provided nursing care. (The term “nosocomial,” meaning “hospital acquired” is derived from this group).
- In about 300 A.D., an early Christian brotherhood called the Parabolani started a hospital that provided nursing care during the Black Plague. This group’s broader mission included caring for the sick, and burying the dead.
- During the Middle Ages, St. Benedict founded the Benedectine Nursing Order, and other military and religious organizations, including the Knights Hosptalers, the Knights of St. Lazarus, and the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, all provided nursing care.
- During the Crimean War in 1853, male ‘orderlies’ provided most nursing care. It was during this conflict that Florence Nightengale did her initial, famous work as a nurse.
- During the U.S. Civil War, nursing care was mostly provided by men, on both sides of the conflict. Men worked as nurses in civilian settings too, and nursing schools regularly admitted and instructed men.
- Nursing has been female-dominated for a relatively short time.
- Changing and increasingly rigid social and gender norms, especially during the Victorian era of the middle to late 1800’s, led to the increasing dominance of women in nursing. This, along with the growth of science and medicine, which attracted increasing numbers of men to pursue careers as physicians encouraged the femininization of nursing.
- From a legal and political standpoint, an important change in the United States occurred in 1901, when the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) was reorganized. After the reorganization, men were prohibited from serving as a nurses. By 1930, men constituted fewer than 1% of RN’s in the U.S.
- It wasn’t until 1955 that men were again authorized to serve as RN’s in the ANC, although not until 1966 were men regularly authorized for commissions in this service.
- Nursing is slowly shifting back to a more equal gender balance.
- As social and gender norms began to change in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a small but growing number of men began to re-enter the nursing profession.
- In 1971, the National Male Nurse Association was formed to support and promote American men in nursing. The organization was re-named the American Assembly for Men in Nursing in 1980.
- An important legal landmark came in 1982, in Mississippi University for Women vs. Hogan. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Mississippi University for Women’s single sex admissions policy for its nursing school violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
- As social and cultural norms continue to evolve, men are now slowly re-entering nursing, a profession they have always played an integral role in shaping.
- The American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN): http://aamn.org
- This organization’s goal is to encourage, support, and advocate for men in the nursing profession. AAMN promotes education, research and outreach at both local and national levels. Check out the website for a variety of resources and a listing of local chapters.
- Discover Nursing: http://www.discovernursing.com/men-in-nursing
- This is a sub-section of Johnson & Johnson’s larger website, with profiles of men in nursing, career tools, and links to articles, books, organizations, and other resources.
- Minority Nurse: http://www.minoritynurse.com/tags/men-nursing
- This is a sub-section of the Minority Nurse website, with a variety of articles, interviews, resources and links to topics of interest for men in nursing.