When you think of the word “nurse,” many people—even the most enlightened among us—automatically picture a woman wearing the scrubs. After all, the phrase “male nurse” is still used to clarify a man who is a nurse (when most people wouldn't dream of saying "female doctor."
Nursing's traditionally been dominated by women, and today it still is. Different from most other medical fields, men are in the minority of nurses—significantly so. While they're in the shadows of their female counterparts, more men are discovering the rewards nursing as a career can bring.
Every year more men enter the nursing field, ready to make a difference for others and themselves.
How Many Nurses Today are Male?
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a little less than 13 percent of the nation's 3.26 million registered nurses were male--around 410,000 people. That means male nurses are outnumbered by their women counterparts by an eight to one ratio.
Even though male nurses are a significant minority in the field, their numbers nearly tripled since 1970. That year, less than 3 percent of registered nurses were men.
There’s no real biological or academic reason more men would be in some medical fields, and more women in others. The reason for the disparity has to do with societal and historical trends more than it does anything else. The first specialized nursing schools in America opened in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One of them, the Nurse Society of Philadelphia, trained women to care for mothers during and after childbirth. The school's founder was a strong advocate of training women to become nurses.
The Civil War caused an immediate and overwhelming need for nurses to care for wounded and sick soldiers. Many of the nurses were women.
History and the media reinforced the stereotype of nursing as a woman-only field. And, in some cases, policy actively prevented men from getting into nursing.
Some nursing schools did not even admit men until 1982, when that practice was declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the single-sex admission policy at the Mississippi University for Women violated the 14th amendment. That led to more men able to pursue an education and career in nursing.
What is it Like Working as a Male Nurse?
In most ways, working as a male nurse is the same as working in any other medical field. Male RNs perform the same duties as any other registered nurse, such as:
- Assessing and speaking with patients
- Preparing patients for exams or treatments,
- Administering medications and monitoring patients
- Performing wound care
- Drawing blood samples
- Assisting in medical procedures
- And much more
But the relative scarcity of male RNs means there are some unique factors men have to face when doing their jobs. For instance, some patients were hesitant when Elias Provencio-Vasquez, a registered nurse, was doing his rotation in labor and delivery, Vasquez told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“I remember back then when I was doing my labor and delivery rotation in the hospital, some patients had some hesitation because we were men,” Vasquez told the RWJF. “But we overcame that by presenting ourselves as students, and our faculty members were very professional and very supportive.”
Sometimes, patients, visitors, or colleagues automatically assume male nurses are doctors. Randy Jones, RN, said moments like that can be excellent teaching experiences about the growing number of men in the nursing field.
Despite those challenges and awkward moments, nursing can be an incredibly rewarding field, both emotionally and financially, for men.
Nursing is a stable career field, projected to grow steadily for the foreseeable future. It also has stable pay and flexibility, with full-time or part-time Nurses wanting to earn extra money or experience new things can try filling in as a PRN nurse, taking jobs as needed on a per diem basis. Men who want to travel can work as a travel nurse, fulfilling short-term contracts across the country.
In addition to the financial benefits for male nurses, men can expect to find a fulfilling career helping people.
Robert Lucia was working as a counselor in a hospital when he decided to pursue a role in nursing. The more he saw the role a nurse played in patients' lives, he said, as a "care provider, educator, counselor, role-model and advocate," the more he knew nursing was right for him.
Luis Enrique Ceniceros, RN-BSN, told Rasmussen University he started as a CNA and was inspired by his nurse coworkers. He said he saw how the "Smallest action of kindness, love and care could completely change [a patient’s] outlook for the rest of the day.”
Roosevelt Davis, RN-MSN works as a pediatric cardiovascular ICU nurse at the Children's Hospital of Orange County. Roosevelt was a college athlete who chose to go into nursing after witnessing the care his family and friends received in the hospital. He decided he wanted to give that same care to other people.
I’m not here to do this for me, I do this for them -- my patients," Roosevelt told Nurse.org. "And, if I don’t do it right, then who else is going to?
Why It's Important to Have More Men in RN Jobs
Getting more men involved in nursing also benefits patients and health care systems. One reason is purely numerical: The amount of RN or PRN job openings will grow beyond what can be filled if only women were nurses.
The other reason is diversity. Men in nursing can provide a different perspective on care, and help make patients feel more comfortable.
That comfort can be emotional; some men may not be comfortable appearing weak in front of a female nurse. Or that comfort can be physical; male patients may prefer a male nurse for delicate procedures like catheter insertion.
Health care systems also need male nurses to inspire and be a role model for boys and men who want to go into nursing.
"I encourage men, especially black men and people of color to 100% consider nursing as a career option," Roosevelt said to Nurse.org.