Nursing is one of the most essential and noble professions in the world, as nurses provide care and support to patients, families, and communities in various health settings. Nurses are also the largest group of health professionals, accounting for nearly 50% of the global health workforce. However, nursing is also one of the most gender-segregated professions, as the majority of nurses are women, and the minority of nurses are men. According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, only 9.4% of registered nurses (RNs) and 8.1% of licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) in the United States are men. This gender imbalance in nursing has historical, cultural, and social roots, and it poses various challenges and opportunities for the nursing profession and the health system. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the low representation of men in nursing, the benefits and barriers of increasing the number of men in nursing, and the strategies and initiatives to encourage more men to become nurses.
Why are there so few men in nursing?
The low representation of men in nursing can be traced back to the origins and evolution of the nursing profession, which has been shaped by the gender norms and stereotypes of different times and places. Some of the factors that have contributed to the feminization of nursing are:
- The historical association of nursing with domestic and maternal roles, such as caring for the sick, the elderly, and the children, which were traditionally performed by women in the family and the community.
- The influence of religion and morality on the nursing profession emphasized the virtues of compassion, selflessness, and service, which were considered to be feminine qualities.
- The impact of wars and conflicts on the nursing profession created a high demand for nurses to care for the wounded soldiers and a low supply of men who were recruited or drafted to fight in the battles.
- The domination of medicine by men created a hierarchical and patriarchal relationship between doctors and nurses, and relegated nurses to subordinate and assistant roles.
- The discrimination and stigma faced by men who wanted to enter or practice nursing portrayed them as weak, feminine, or homosexual, and questioned their motives and abilities.
These factors have created a persistent and pervasive perception of nursing as a woman’s job, which has deterred many men from pursuing or joining the nursing profession.
What are the benefits and barriers of increasing the number of men in nursing?
Increasing the number of men in nursing can have various benefits for the nursing profession, the health system, and the society, such as:
- Enhancing the diversity and inclusivity of the nursing workforce, which can reflect and respond to the diverse and changing needs and preferences of the patient population.
- Enriching the knowledge and skills of the nursing workforce can foster innovation and collaboration among nurses of different backgrounds and perspectives.
- Expanding the roles and opportunities of the nursing workforce, can challenge and change the stereotypes and expectations of nurses, and empower them to take on more leadership and advanced positions.
- Addressing the shortage and demand of the nursing workforce, which can improve the access and quality of care, and reduce the workload and stress of nurses.
However, increasing the number of men in nursing also faces various barriers and challenges, such as:
- The lack of awareness and information about the nursing profession can limit the exposure and interest of men to nursing career options and opportunities.
- The lack of support and guidance for the nursing profession can hinder the recruitment and retention of men in the nursing education and practice settings.
- The lack of role models and mentors for the nursing profession can affect the motivation and confidence of men in nursing learning and working environments.
- The lack of policies and regulations for the nursing profession can prevent the recognition and protection of the rights and interests of men in the nursing profession.
These barriers and challenges require concerted and coordinated efforts from various stakeholders, such as the government, the education sector, the health sector, and the society, to overcome and resolve.
How can more men be encouraged to become nurses?
Encouraging more men to become nurses is a complex and multifaceted task, which involves changing the attitudes and behaviors of individuals and groups, and transforming the structures and systems of the society. Some of the strategies and initiatives that can be implemented to encourage more men to become nurses are:
- Raising the awareness and visibility of the nursing profession, by promoting the positive and diverse images and stories of men in nursing, and highlighting the benefits and opportunities of the nursing career.
- Providing support and resources for the nursing profession, by offering scholarships, grants, and loans for men who want to study nursing, and providing incentives, rewards, and recognition for men who want to work in nursing.
- Developing the curriculum and pedagogy for the nursing profession, by incorporating gender-sensitive and inclusive content and methods in the nursing education and training programs, and ensuring the quality and relevance of the nursing knowledge and skills.
- Creating the culture and environment for the nursing profession, by fostering a respectful and supportive atmosphere in the nursing schools and workplaces, and addressing the issues and challenges faced by men in nursing.
By adopting these strategies and initiatives, more men can be encouraged to become nurses, and contribute to the advancement and improvement of the nursing profession and the health system.
Nursing is not a woman’s job, nor a man’s job. It is a human job, that requires compassion, competence, and commitment from anyone who wants to pursue it. However, the reality is that nursing is still dominated by women, and underrepresented by men, which has implications for the nursing profession and the health system. Therefore, the government should encourage more men to become nurses, by addressing the historical, cultural, and social factors that have influenced the gender imbalance in nursing, and by implementing the strategies and initiatives that can increase the number and diversity of nurses. By doing so, the government can enhance the quality, safety, and efficiency of care, and improve the health and well-being of patients, nurses, and the society.
List of Facts and Figures Related to Nursing
- There are approximately 27 million nurses and midwives in the world, accounting for nearly 50% of the global health workforce.
- There is a global shortage of health workers, in particular nurses and midwives, who represent more than 50% of the current shortage of health workers.
- The world will need an additional 9 million nurses and midwives by the year 2030, to achieve universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.
- There are currently 2.9 million registered nurses in the United States, and the position is expected to grow by 15% by 2026.
- The annual mean wage of registered nurses in the United States was $80,010 in 2020, and the highest-paying state was California, with $120,560.
- There are different types of nurses, such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse educators, who have different roles, responsibilities, and salaries.
- Only 9.4% of registered nurses and 8.1% of licensed practical or vocational nurses in the United States are men.
- The median age of a registered nurse is 52 years old.
- The RN workforce is 81% Caucasian, 7.2% Asian, 6% Black, 5.6% Hispanic.
- The LPN/LVN workforce is 69.5% Caucasian, 5% Asian, 17.2% Black, 10% Hispanic.
- The number of male nurses has tripled over the past 50 years.
- In the Pacific region of the U.S., 30.5% of nurses are people of color, the largest percentage in the country.
- Between 93% and 98% of all nurses are happy they chose a career in nursing.
- In Gallup polls, nurses have been identified as the most honest and ethical professionals for the past 19 years.
- The job of nurse practitioner is ranked #3 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best Jobs list.
- Higher nurse staffing levels are associated with lower rates of mortality, morbidity, infections, complications, errors, falls, pressure ulcers, and readmissions, as well as higher patient satisfaction and quality of life.
- Higher nurse staffing levels are also associated with lower rates of burnout, turnover, absenteeism, and injuries, as well as higher job satisfaction, engagement, and retention among nurses.
- Higher nurse staffing levels can also result in lower costs, higher revenues, and better performance for hospitals, by reducing the length of stay, the use of resources, the risk of litigation, and the need for agency or overtime nurses, as well as increasing the patient volume, the market share, and the reputation of the hospital.
- There is no universally accepted and applied method to calculate the best number of nurses to have in a hospital, as different methods may use different indicators, variables, formulas, and assumptions, and may produce different results and recommendations.