In recent years the nursing profession has been perceived as the smart profession to pursue, as it’s known to provide financial security and long-term employment, something that’s not necessarily guaranteed in other more precarious fields where outsourcing poses a real threat to job security. With a flexible schedule and the ability to choose from a variety of different shifts, along with an array of benefits and the promise of a generous pension, it might seem obvious that the benefits gained from a career in nursing wouldn’t deter anyone from pursuing this field regardless of their gender. However, despite the growing trend of an increasing demand for nurses, it’s still a profession that is largely dominated by women. Though men are in no way barred from entering this line of work, there are various obstacles they face when pursuing this predominantly female field.
There’s no doubt that there are far more female nurses than there is male. When entering a hospital or doctor’s office a common sight would be that of a female nurse donned in a pale blue nurse’s smock, strolling through the long, well-lit halls, attending to a variety of ill patients. What about men? How often do we see the same number of men wearing the same uniform, performing the same tasks? According to Minority Nursing writer Tri Pham in her piece titled “Men in Nursing”, a recent statistic that was taken in 2008 highlights the undeniable difference in the number of men that work as nurses as opposed to women. Within that year there were a total of 3,063,163 nurses that were both licensed and registered, but only 6.6 percent of the over 3 million registered nurses were male, and only a slightly higher percentage of 16.8 were non-Caucasian males working in the nursing field (Men in Nursing, Tri Pham). There obviously has to be a deeper reason as to why men, in the twenty-first century, are continuing to avoid this line of work except for the fact that it has historically been a field almost exclusively occupied by women. But that idea, though still present, has been gradually diminishing. Though far more women enter the nursing field than men there seems to be more of an increase than in previous generations. From 2011 to the present day 9.6 percent of all the registered nurses in the country were men, and that’s a far cry from the measly 2.7 percent that was noted in 1970, a time when gender roles were more strictly defined (Gross, Economic benefits attract males to the female-dominated profession). Although the benefits of becoming a nurse are enormous, as are the challenges, it’s enough to make one wonder what exactly deters more men from entering the field. Is it a social stigma that still lingers? Do men just feel that nursing isn’t nearly as prestigious as other medical professions? But there are various legitimate reasons that both prevent and attract men to nursing, whether they are social or financial which are increasingly used to justify a man’s decision to enter into the profession despite some of its challenges.
In this past recession, thousands of people lost their jobs, jobs that were either outsourced or disappeared altogether as a result of the economic crisis. The one area, however, that saw more of a growth in employment was the healthcare field, which could easily have contributed to the larger number of men who decided that this was the right field to pursue, as it provided more security and stability than did other fields. It could also be the fact that nurses bring home a significantly higher paycheck than they did in the 1960s, a time when the average nurse earned 5,200 dollars a year, which pales in comparison to the 40,000 most RNs start out making before they gain experience and see their salaries rise up to 72,000 a year. Also, nursing requires more skills than in previous generations, with all of the different areas of a hospital a nurse can work in, such as the operating room, the delivery room, or even in a psychiatric ward (Blanche, Nursing 50 Years Back and Today: How the Nursing Field Has Changed Over the Last 50 Years). Peter Beurhaus, who works as a nursing professor at Vanderbilt University, has his own reasons as to why nursing has attracted more men nowadays than it ever had in the past. He says, “We saw the nation lose hundreds of jobs during the recession, but health care grew in the number of jobs it produced, and nursing played a huge part. People notice that when they come out of high school, there’s no longer a negative stigma” (Gross, Economic benefits attract males to the female-dominated profession). Despite the evident economic benefits that come along with nursing, there’s also the benefit of working in a generation that is flexible enough to disregard barriers that were once firmly in place regarding men and women and the appropriate career choices for people of certain genders. Professor Buerhaus also speculates, in regards to the attraction of nursing, that this is a field that deals more largely with direct contact with patients than in other areas of the medical field (Gross, Economic benefits attract males to the female-dominated profession). It’s this reality that men may feel when working directly with a patient that they are working more as a patient’s advocate than simply a patient’s caregiver.
Although all of the benefits of becoming a nurse would plausibly outshine any kind of challenges nurses face, such as stresses at work and developing the skills required for a difficult profession, there are still reasons that prevent men from eagerly pursuing a career in nursing. Even today, despite the growth in health care, nursing is still perceived as a field that is less prestigious, and so requires less training and education. One male student, named Gillis, noted that a recent graduate of Stanford, who was interested in a nursing program, was told, “Stanford grads don’t become nurses.” There were also students, ones who excelled in school, but were also told something along the lines of, “You’re too smart to become a nurse.” Also, there’s that old sense that men still feel as if nursing is a female profession, and so men choose to pursue a field that’ll be viewed as more appropriate for men (Cheng, Stigma deters Duke Undergraduates from pursuing nursing).
In order to determine the exact reasons for the shortages of male nurses, to discover what really deters men from a career in nursing, a survey was conducted in 2005. A total of 498 men who worked as nurses participated in the survey to shed light on the issue. Of the nearly five hundred men who participated 73 percent claimed that negative stereotypes of men working as nurses realistically contributed to the shortage, 59 percent noted that what might deter men was that nursing has always, especially in previous generations, been seen as a female profession, and the rest, 42 percent felt that men lacked male models and mentors within the field (Weber, Why men choose nursing). Despite the rarely mentioned stigma that comes along with men becoming nurses, another reason for the shortage of male nurses is the discomfort that some men feel in that role. Rodney Gorman, who works as an ICU nurse said, “When I walk into a room, patients assume I’m a doctor. People should know that men make good nurses, just like women make good doctors.” (Weber, Why men choose nursing). If it isn’t just being mistaken for a doctor instead of a nurse as a result of their gender, there are also challenges that men face. Some female patients, especially psychiatric patients, may have a tendency towards feeling uncomfortable around men in general. But one male nurse, named Raper, has commented on the potential for a female patient’s discomfort, when he says, “I don’t believe that I’ve ever been discriminated against. However, just as there are patients who prefer not to have a male physician, there are patients who prefer not to have a male nurse. When I encounter those situations, I try to respect the patient’s wishes. I have never allowed my pride to overrule the wishes of a patient if I could make reasonable accommodations with another equally qualified female colleague.”(Weber, When men choose nursing). There is clearly a wide range of reasons why men have chosen to pursue nursing as a career, a profession that was, at one point, almost entirely dominated by women. There are just far too many benefits that come along with nursing, such as a flexible schedule, a secure position, and high pay, and so it’s therefore difficult for anyone to refuse to pursue a field that only continues to grow. However, mainly as a result of old stereotypes and the general perception that nursing is a woman’s field, nursing has continued to remain a job occupied predominantly by women.