Women dominate the nursing profession. They make up more than 85% of the profession, according to census.gov. Although men are the minority, their representation in nursing has been steadily increasing since the 1970s. In 2017, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported 333,350 nurses who identified as male, making up 9% of the U.S. nursing workforce. Today, that percentage is over 12%.
Why aren't more men nurses? There are many reasons why men don't go into the nursing profession. Some include:
Ideas of masculinity
Nursing being a women-dominated profession
Despite these reasons, now more than ever, the nursing profession needs more men nurses. In this article, we discuss:
- The importance of male representation in nursing
- The barriers they face
- What it's like to be a male nurse
Lastly, we give nurses and nurse leaders insights on their role in increasing diversity in nursing.
The importance of male representation in nursing
Having men in the nursing profession improves gender diversity and representation in healthcare. Male nurses have often been stigmatized and been used as the punchline of jokes. The lack of male representation in nursing is no laughing matter. Male nurse representation:
Provides role models for young boys
Allows for patient preference
Shows men can be caring and nurturing
Debunks myths about male nurses
Just as women might prefer a woman nurse, men often prefer their nurses to be men. A male nurse provides a comfortable environment to discuss personal issues. Male patients may be less embarrassed if procedures like placing a catheter are carried out by a man.
Male diversity, especially minority males, also improves patient outcomes. Many studies reveal that when patients are cared for by the same race or ethnicity, they're more likely to receive better care. The Oakland Men's Health Disparity Project revealed that Black patients, especially men, are more likely to receive preventative care services from Black providers.
The president of the American Nursing Association (ANA), Ernest Grant, is the first male nurse to fill the role. He believes diversity in nursing is essential for patients. He states in American Nurse Today, "It's important that the nursing workforce reflects the diversity of our patient populations to increase our ability to provide the culturally competent, quality care patients need, especially when they are most vulnerable. Welcoming people from diverse backgrounds into our profession with their unique perspectives and experiences will only strengthen it."
Barriers men face in the nursing profession
There are many barriers male nurses face once they enter the field. There are many barriers male nurses face once they enter the field. Patrick McMurray, RN, says, "being a man in nursing sometimes means that there are people who feel less safe with you, just by virtue of your gender." Other barriers include:
Lack of male nurse role models
Patients refusing care
Unequal clinical opportunities
Taofiki Gafar-Schaner, MSN, RN, notes that although his barriers are "limited" as a nursing student, he was denied witnessing a live birth because of his gender.
Taofiki Gafar-Schaner, MSN, RN, notes that although his barriers are "limited" as a nursing student, he was denied witnessing a live birth because of his gender. "I recall in nursing school I was not allowed to observe live births during my OB rotation. While I respect a family's need for privacy, my gender prevented me from learning. During my career, my gender has led to the assumption that I want to take care of physically and verbally aggressive patients. Being larger and stronger than most of my female coworkers does not mean I want to be hit or yelled at while working."
What's it like to be a male nurse
Patrick and Taofiki entered nursing for different reasons: Patrick for his love of biological sciences and social sciences, Taofiki originally wanted to be a psychologist but was influenced by his mother, a nurse, to enter the field.
They both find fulfillment in the profession. Taofiki realizes he can "help others on their healing journey." For Patrick, nursing gives him "flexibility to be able to pivot in many different directions. I [can] work with people across the lifespan, in an unlimited number of settings. I also like that nursing [allows] me to be flexible with how I [advance] my knowledge and practice."
Being male and a person of color comes with prejudice — a harsh reality minority nurses face. Both nurses recounted instances when patients called them racial slurs — that would affect even the strongest of nurses. But this hasn't deterred them from the profession. They both believe that increasing diversity in the nursing profession will only make things better.
"To properly meet the needs of those entrusted in our care, we must have a diverse healthcare workforce. A diverse workforce also leads to empathic care because we or family members have experienced what our patients are going through. So we treat them as family and not just another number in a bed," says Taofiki.
Patrick believes that "diversity and change are essential for the growth of anything — a plant, an organization, a profession. Beyond that, diversity can hold the key for expanding not only who can be a nurse, but also what nursing can be."
How can nurses and nurse leaders play a role in increasing diversity in nursing?
Nurses and nursing leadership must be proactive and create strategic plans to increase diversity in nursing. Analyzing bottleneck policies and procedures that don't actively recruit a diversified healthcare team should be top priority. Here are some strategies Taofiki and Patrick suggest:
- Take chances on applicants that might not have the perfect resume
- Bring community leaders to join hospital boards or committees to ensure that their needs are being heard and met
- Pay attention and speak up
- Look for whose voices are missing whenever you hold meetings or panels
There is still much work to be done, but initiatives like the Equity Impact Scholarship by OpusVi and CommonSpirit Health are working to give underrepresented healthcare professionals access to education.
Some nurses are taking the need to diversify healthcare teams into their own hands. LaDonia Patterson, ED.D, RN, and Gaea Daniel, PhD, RN, recognize the need for diversity in nursing, especially the representation of Black men. They created the High School to Higher Education Pipeline Program.
Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any race. LaDonia and Gaea recognize that recruiting Black males in the Atlanta area into the nursing profession increases representation and reduces health disparities for minority patient communities. The program will provide mentorship and resources, so the students are successful in the program.
Having a diversified healthcare team, which includes the increased representation of male nurses, improves healthcare outcomes. Recruiting male nurses should begin in high school. It's important to show students that nursing isn't only for women and that other genders can hugely impact the profession.
Taofiki Gafar-Schaner is a nursing informaticist and co-founder of Frontier Health and Resources.
Patrick McMurray is a second-generation registered nurse with over eight years of nursing experience with a primary background in cardiovascular critical care. He works as a clinical nurse at the University of NC at Chapel Hill (UNC) Medical Center in Chapel Hill, NC.
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