The general stereotypes of nurses and caregivers are female, while surgeons and physicians tend to be seen as male. However, despite these public conceptions, men in nursing has a rich history and a positive future. While there is a marked imbalance between men and women in the profession, the gap is slowly closing, with more and more men opting for a career in nursing. The career itself has a huge number of benefits for both genders, but this article will focus on the past, present, and future of men in nursing roles.
The Past: The History of Men in Nursing
Up until the 19th century, nurses were predominantly male. With war and religious orders requiring a number of nurses to be on the front lines of rebellion and chaos, the role of a nurse was more commonly seen as ‘men’s work’ – a complete opposite to the modern viewpoint.
Following the civil war, fewer men became nurses, while their female counterparts took on more of the roles. Florence Nightingale, who is seen as the pioneer of modern nursing, likely caused the downward trend of men in nursing. She believed that women were more suited to supervising the work of nurses and established several institutions that worked to train higher-class women to join the workforce.
This trend went so far as to actually prohibit men from applying to nursing schools or serving as nurses within the US Army. With this dynamic shift, the 30s saw the lowest rate of males in the occupation than ever before.
Even during and after the second world war, where there were severe nurse shortages, women were more often targeted to fill roles than men. In 1955, the federal legislation that stopped men from joining the army and navy as nurses was finally lifted. Despite this, only 40% of nursing schools actually accepted men five years later. In 1982, a licensed male nurse made history by bringing the case to the US Supreme Court, which banned the public funding of institutions that denied admission to prospective nurses based on their gender.
The Present: Nursing Demographics and Barriers Facing Male Nurses
Thankfully, there has been an increase in men joining the nursing workforce since 1960. By 2015, the share of men in the profession had steadily grown to 13%. While this is still only a fraction of the workforce, it’s a positive trend that will continue (hopefully) into the future.
As there are so many specialisms for nurses to follow, there are significant job roles that are being taken up by men more so than others. 76% of male nurses work in a hospital setting, with 41.1% of male nurses being nurse anesthetists.
According to a recent data review by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, found that just 8% of active nurse practitioners are male. If you’re interested in becoming a male nurse practitioner, click here for info.
When it comes to studying, current trends seem to show that men tend to choose to study an accelerated BSN program (ABSN), after studying a different first degree. Both men and women find that nursing can provide a rewarding and exciting second career choice, meaning many people are looking to re-qualify with a second degree after working within a different industry.
Why men are now choosing a career as a nurse.
There are a huge number of reasons why people choose to become a nurse – regardless of gender. However, the evidence suggests that men seek different career positions during times of economic recession. Others are rethinking their life priorities and, as such, choose nurses as a second career so they can focus more on their families.
What’s more, while nurses are typically underpaid globally, the US has some of the best nursing salaries in the world. And, the number of jobs available – and the salaries that go with them – have steadily increased since the 1980s.
Men who have grown up with family members or friends that are nurses tend to be more open to the idea of pursuing the career themselves. Male nurses have already reported high job security, great salaries, and a high level of job satisfaction – not something that is often gained within other ‘male dominant’ professions. Those looking for a more fulfilling and rewarding career take comfort in the work, as they can head home after a long shift knowing they’ve made a difference.
Barriers facing men in nursing.
The main barrier facing men interested in pursuing a career in nursing is the stigma. Despite there being plenty of evidence regarding how men played an integral role in nursing throughout history, public opinion that nursing is ‘female work’ still soars. As opposed to going to medical school, men who choose to nurse are often asked why they’ve chosen their career path and why they didn’t want to be GPs or physicians. It’s these seemingly harmless but tactless conversations that lead more men to be ashamed or reluctant to pursue the profession.
It’s almost not socially accepted that men can be just as good at nursing as women.
And, along with this stigma comes the lack of male role models. Mentors, managers, and educators all tend to be female, making it much harder for men to see themselves in similar positions. Without being exposed to successful men within their potential profession, men are much less likely to dive in. The same could be said for women interested in corporate director roles or construction jobs.
If, as an industry, we could provide more equality between men and women in supervisory roles within nursing, there is potential to shift the current dynamic of students heading into nursing school.
What does the future of men in nursing look like?
Both education and healthcare organizations are now looking for ways to recognize nursing as a legitimate career option for men. With campaigns to create diversity in the workplace, there are several foundations looking to encourage men to join the profession by granting a large proportion of scholarships to men specifically.
While there’s a long way to go in creating more balance between men and women in the nursing world, more and more organizations are advertising and haloing their male nurses to help break the stigma and open the doors to more men feeling comfortable with their career choices.
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