Across the US and globally, the nursing profession is predominantly practiced by women. While this is largely due to women’s perceived nurturing and mothering abilities, nursing has a deep history of being male-dominated—which may come as a surprise to many.
Given societal perceptions of gender and nursing, some male nurses or nursing students may be self-conscious about entering the profession. To tackle this taboo, we’ll deep dive into the history of nursing, share common experiences of male nurses, and offer tips on how you can overcome the stigma associated with male nursing.
The History of Male Nursing
According to some health experts, some of the earliest nursing records claim that there was a male-only nursing school in India, dating as far back as 250 BC.
Over the years, men continued to be at the forefront of nursing. Monastic movements in the fourth and fifth centuries involved religious monks and medicine men who took on caretaking roles as nurses.
In the centuries to follow, men continued working in these roles. British records from 1861 reveal there were over 1600 men working as nurses across the country. Over the next twenty years, these numbers dwindled to a few hundred men.
Today, approximately 2.5 million women work as nurses across the US, vastly outnumbering men with a ratio of about nine to one.
While men represent the minority of nurses, the percentage of male nurses is increasing. According to a 2017 report by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, the percentage of male nurses rose from 2 percent in 1960 to 13 percent in 2015.
Common Experiences of Male Nurses
Researchers have noted that male nurses have been subject to negative stereotypes due to being a minority in the profession. “In some cases, their sexuality or intelligence might be questioned—for example dubbing male nurses as homosexuals, failed doctors, and deviants,” reports one study.
Male nurses report that some patients, particularly those who are elderly, may have an outdated vision of what a nurse looks like. These patients may assume that a male nurse entering their room is a doctor. To prevent this, introduce yourself and communicate your role to the patient from the start.
Male nurses may also be tasked to deal with any combative patients or step in if patients are becoming violent, particularly as a result of mental health issues. Male nurses also report having to help with heavy lifting on the job, such as assisting their nurse counterparts with heavier patients.
Despite representing a small portion of the workforce in nursing, male nurses actually make more money than their female counterparts. According to a study conducted by the University of California–San Francisco School of Nursing, men in nursing out-earned women across settings, specialties, and positions, and this pay gap is not narrowing over time.
The study revealed that the annual salaries of male registered nurses (RNs) run about $10,000 higher than those of female RNs. After adjusting for age, education, and medical specialty,
the pay gap narrows to approximately $5000.
Dealing with Challenges and Gender Stereotypes
When facing challenges related to being a male nurse, these tips may support you in setting boundaries, helping your patients be more comfortable, and feeling more encouraged:
- Surround yourself with like-minded people to help you overcome challenging gender stereotypes about nursing. Even if you cannot connect with any real-life male peers or mentors, you can seek to learn from the experiences of those sharing their stories online, including Nurse Blake, Jay Friedrichs, and Trev CN.
- Always refer to company policy on regulations that may apply to you as a male nurse. Some clinics or hospitals require a medical professional of the same gender to stand by during certain procedures. Familiarize yourself with any such policies, and discuss a plan with your manager to ensure you always comply.
- Irrespective of company policy, it is best practice when working with female patients to inform them what you’re going to do. If you're performing an invasive procedure or asking questions about their medical history or a situation they may not be comfortable sharing, ask your patient if they would prefer a female nurse instead.
Forging Your Own Path
Choosing to practice a profession that is women-dominated may not be an easy decision. However, the more self-assured you are, the less other people’s opinions will matter to you. If you’re confident about becoming a nurse, other people’s opinions won’t impact you. While this may not come naturally, you can try these practices to help you foster this mindset.
Remember: Being compassionate and caring (all key characteristics among nurses) is not limited to a gender—and neither is having a calling. If you’re feeling a pull toward exploring a nursing career, follow your intuition and explore this possibility. Working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) can be the first step in your path to becoming an RN.
With an increasing demand for health care services to an aging population, there is no better time to set yourself up for a career that is flexible, pays well, and impacts people’s lives.
Want to hear the first-hand experiences of male nurses? Join Nursa’s online community to connect with health professionals and get answers to your burning questions.