The U.S. nursing shortage is only expected to get worse over the next decade. Many industry experts believe bringing more male nurses into the profession may be part of the solution. While more men have entered nursing over the past four decades, male nurses still make up a relatively small percentage of the nursing workforce.
As of 2022, the U.S. has approximately 4.2 million registered nurses. Male nurses however, represent only 9% of the nurse workforce, roughly 330,000 out of 4.2 million.
Experts cite a variety of reasons for fewer male nurses such as societal gender stereotypes and the lack of male role models in nursing. However, with a rapidly worsening nursing shortage because of the aging baby boomer population, the need for gender diversity is more important than ever for nursing schools and health systems.
More male nurses are important for diversity
Normajean Colby, PhD, RN, CPN, assistant professor of nursing at the Widener University School of Nursing in Pennsylvania, an expert on diversity in nursing, agrees gender diversity is an increasingly important issue.
“We need more men in nursing because we certainly have patients who are men,” Colby said. “We need to be in tune, in sync with the background and perspective of the people we take care of, and we’re not there yet.”
She said gender diversity brings a different perspective to the profession and benefits not only patients, but men who already are in nursing. Colby has asked her male students to suggest ways to make nursing more inclusive. “They say we need more male faculty in schools and more (nurse) preceptors with men in that role,” she said.
Colby said it’s essential to fight stereotypes by teaching youth men can be professional caregivers. She added, “We also need gender-neutral language in our textbooks. We can’t have a conversation when a nurse is always ‘she’ or ‘her’; the pictures need to reflect that, too. We need to be asking high school students, ‘Why not nursing?’ … and we need to be talking to those in nursing schools to see what’s working, what’s not, as well as talking to nurses in practice.”
“We have to fix that early on by doing campaigns and going to career days, elementary schools and Boy Scout camps,” she said, adding that she frequently takes a male nursing student with her to career days, and emphasizes nursing is a career for men as well as women.
Early exposure to nursing is key
Chris Kowal, DNP, MSN-MOL-Ed, RN, a nurse for 25 years, currently is an ICU nurse at St. Joseph’s Health in Syracuse, N.Y., and an adjunct professor with the American Sentinel University’s online nursing program.
He agreed encouraging students of all ages to consider nursing is a good idea. “We need to find ways to allow people to have more exposure to nursing, invite them into the healthcare system in other roles where they can get a good paycheck and observe what nursing does, and it may take away any stigma as to what men think about nursing,” he said.
Vince Baiera, BSN, Principal at Relias, also emphasized the importance of increasing the number of male RNs. “I believe we can, collectively, do more to recruit male nurses into the profession. It starts with educating people about the opportunity and perks the job has to offer. Full time employment, great benefits, great pay, unlimited flexibility, great schedule, work with great people, help make a difference and many more benefits we can share.”
He also provided advice to future potential male nurses. “To young men considering nursing, I’d say be objective and don’t pass on nursing until you know all the advantages and disadvantages of the career. It’s not for everybody but is oftentimes different than the perception that many young people may have. It can be the start of something that can take you all over the world and offer you stability and long-term growth that many other careers simply can’t offer.”
Marketing also makes a difference
Marketing was cited as another way to attract men to nursing. “Schools and agencies need to market to men: high wages and expanding job opportunities in nursing makes this field attractive, offering stability and flexibility,” Kowal said.
At American Sentinel University, “we work to market our programs to both male and female nurses,” he said, “showing what they can do above and beyond after they’ve earned a degree.” American Sentinel University also offers sub-specialty degrees programs that attract men who may not have considered nursing before. “There’s a lot of second- and third-career people coming into nursing, and there’s an opportunity to market to those individuals, too,” Kowal said.
The healthcare field has historically been a fairly accurate reflection of the cultural bias present in society. Men have been encouraged to pursue roles as surgeons, nurse anesthetists, and other higher-profile roles in healthcare, whereas women have been encouraged to go into nursing. This furthers the cultural narrative that women are conditioned to assist men, not challenge them. As awareness of this issue rises, it is essential that the medical field reflect this cultural shift.
Having more male nurses benefits the profession and patients, Kowal concluded. “Encouraging men to enter into the nursing profession only works to instill strength in numbers, diversity and increased focus on quality, safety, operational productivity and readmission prevention,” he said.
As our nation’s diversity will undoubtedly continue to grow, so must the nursing workforce to better serve patients needs and advance health equity. To better understand the current level of diversity in nursing in greater detail, you can review the findings within the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated with new content.