Overcoming Stereotypes: Men in Nursing

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Despite the gender shift in nursing, men are often still stigmatized.

While men account for just 13 percent of nurses in the United States today, their share has grown steadily since the 1960s, when they made up only 2 percent of the nursing workforce. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth said the larger market share is due to several factors, including an increase in men switching careers to nursing, the rising labor demands in healthcare and the liberalizing of gender role attitudes.

“This shift has unfolded over a period in which workers in traditionally male occupations have faced increasing competitive pressure from automation and trade and, in the construction sector specifically, immigration and later the housing market collapse,” the organization said.

Studies show that men are increasingly confronting male nurse stereotypes to embrace the benefits of earning BSN degrees. Increasingly, RNs are being encouraged to earn Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees, and many turn to RN to BSN online degree programs to help advance their careers and earning potential.

Common Male Nurse Stereotypes

Despite the gender shift in nursing, men are still stigmatized in the profession, particularly among older patients and in parts of the United States where gender roles are traditionally followed, the New York Times reported.

Men working in nursing face stereotypes, stigmatization and other challenges that their female counterparts may never encounter. Some of the more common difficulties men face in the profession are:

  • Being mistaken for a doctor: Due to commonly held gender stereotypes, men working in healthcare are often mistaken for a physician.
  • Patient rejection: Some patients refuse care by men who are nurses simply because they are men.
  • Being called a male nurse: Just being called “nurse” is sufficient, yet many people continue to gender-qualify the role.
  • A lack of male role models in academia: Few men have assumed roles as nurse educators, and many nursing school textbooks refer to nurses as “she.”

Undeterred by the stereotypes, men have been deeply involved in nursing for centuries and fought for the right to work in care.

Men in the Nursing Profession

Since the earliest recorded years of nursing, men have played a prominent role in care, dating back to medieval Europe when monks and nuns would care for the sick. All of that changed in the 19th century when Florence Nightingale made her mark on the profession and ushered in generations of women who chose nursing as a profession.

During the Industrial Revolution — from about 1760 to 1840 — and through World War II, men were discouraged from joining the ranks of nurses. Men were barred from attending most nursing schools and serving as nurses in the military, and programs specifically targeted women to be military nurses.

After the Korean War, federal lawmakers passed legislation that lifted the ban on men in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps.

Educating Men to be Nurses

Despite the move to integrate men into nursing in the 1960s and 1970s, the profession remained female-dominated. Men were turned away from public education institutions based on their gender until 1982 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against female-only nursing school admissions policies. The court said publicly funded nursing schools could not exclude men from admissions. The plaintiff in the case, Joe Hogan, went on to earn a BSN degree.

As of October 2018, about 346,000 men are professionally active nurses, the Kaiser Family Foundation found, compared to 3.5 million professionally active female nurses.

Organizations such as the American Association for Men in Nursing and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have emphasized the need for more men in the profession because men add diversity and different perspectives to the field. These same organizations encourage all nurses, both men and women, to earn BSN degrees.

Studies show nurses who have earned BSN degrees are more prepared to meet the future challenges of healthcare, and hospitals that employ nurses with BSN degrees have better patient outcomes. Nurses, both men and women, are increasingly turning to RN to BSN online programs to earn the degree.

About Duquesne University’s Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program

Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program provides students with customized degree plans and the opportunity to learn from some of the nation’s most highly regarded nursing professionals. The 100 percent online program allows for peer collaboration for a broader perspective into the profession.

The coursework is flexible, allowing nurses to continue their education and prepare to advance their careers with little disruption to their work and personal schedules. The program offers three start dates per year and accepts transfer credits. Students who earn a BSN at Duquesne University are also eligible to take three graduate-level nursing courses for a head start on an MSN degree. For more information, visit Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program website.




What explains the rising share of U.S. men in registered nursing?: Washington Center for Equitable Growth

Nursing and Caring: A Historical Overview from Ancient Greek

Tradition to Modern Times: International Journal of Caring Science

Court Says School Cannot Bar Men: New York Times

Total Number of Professionally Active Nurses, by Gender: Kaiser Family Foundation

“Forget About the Stigma’: Male Nurses Explain Why Nursing Is a Job of the Future for Men: New York Times