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Why Men Should Consider a Nursing Career: My Experience as a Male Nurse

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC
Updated June 15, 2023
    Is being a male nurse for you? An experienced male nurse’s perspective can help. Let’s explore your many options in this traditionally female profession.
    Male nurse standing with the rest of a medical teamCredit: Getty Images
    • As the percentage of nurses who are men increases, gender stigmatization can be reduced.
    • There’s much to think about if you’re considering a career in nursing, including the potential challenges and rewards.
    • Consider asking yourself a few questions to be sure you’re prepared for a career in nursing.

    Are you a man who’s thought about becoming a nurse, but you’re afraid that your career will be a series of questions about why you didn’t become a doctor? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 12% of practical nurses, registered nurses, and nurse practitioners are men. In fact, the percentage of male nurses continues to increase.

    This article paints a realistic picture of what to expect as a male nurse, including advantages, disadvantages, advice, and actions to take when you’re ready to start your nursing career.

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    The Challenges and Rewards of a Career in Nursing: Insights from a Male Nurse

    I’ve been a nurse since 1996, and my career choice has rarely been questioned. The commenters have always been men of the World War II generation whose ideas of masculinity were essentially formed by figures like John Wayne. “What? You weren’t smart enough for medical school?” asked one gentleman. “Not exactly,” I remember replying. “They told me I was too smart and that I should become a nurse instead.”

    Another man said, “I’m not going to let a male nursing student touch me.” I was more than happy to let a female colleague take over.

    What I’ve often heard from patients (mostly women) is that they find male nurses more compassionate, empathic, and kind than female nurses. Go figure.

    Why did I choose to become a nurse?

    When I was in my late 20s, I was stepfather to a young boy, my then-wife was earning her second degree, and I only had a high school diploma and certificates in massage therapy and yoga instruction. Seeking to be a positive role model for my son, I wanted a flexible and honorable career. Having three aunts who were happy nurses helped, so I decided to give my all to becoming a nurse.

    What rewards have I experienced as a nurse?

    Being a nurse has been incredibly rewarding. It set a very positive example for my son, increased my self-esteem, and made me a proud member of the most trusted profession.

    I’m a natural helper, and nursing has placed me in roles where being thoughtful and compassionate is expected and rewarded. Nursing allows me to use both sides of my brain by learning hard skills, such as phlebotomy and wound care, and soft skills, like communication and emotional intelligence. Flexibility is another reward. I’ve worked in home care, hospice, public health, and intensive case management of patients with HIV/AIDS and substance use disorders. I also served as a clinical team leader in an urban community health center and as a chief nursing officer of a home health agency. Expanding on that flexibility, I’ve been a nurse entrepreneur for many years. My business includes career coaching for nurses, podcasting, freelance writing, and delivering keynotes at nursing conferences. It’s hard to get bored when you know the sky’s the limit.

    Exciting possibilities of entering the nursing profession include generally positive job growth projections, respect, and the opportunity to become a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, Ph.D.-level researcher, or doctor of nursing practice. Nursing has been very good to me, and I plan to continue doing whatever is most interesting and rewarding for years to come.

    What are the challenges?

    If you’ve seen “Meet the Parents” starring Ben Stiller, you’ll remember that Stiller’s character is a male nurse named Gaylord Focker, and his hyper-masculine, ex-CIA father-in-law played by Robert DeNiro ridicules him mercilessly for being a nurse. You may encounter that stigma, but if you care about what you do and not what people think, you’ll be fine —unless that is, your father-in-law idolizes Robert DeNiro and John Wayne.

    But seriously, many challenges nurses face are universal among both men and women. Although female nurses have their own crosses to bear, like sexual harassment, not to mention male nurses being paid more or being promoted to leadership more quickly. Stress, burnout, emotional trauma, and compassion fatigue are real and worsened during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staffing is a common problem, and nurses frequently talk about there just being too many patients to care for, which greatly compromises patient care and safety.

    Nursing can be physically demanding and has a high burden of on-the-job injuries. Long hours and patient transfers carry risks, as do handling contaminated equipment. When you’re working too hard, mistakes can happen, and these can result in lawsuits and investigations.As a nurse who chose never to work in a hospital, I haven’t been exposed to the level of risk and physical labor that hospital nurses face. However, in home health, hospice, and outpatient case management in the inner city, I faced driving in blizzards and ice storms because patients need to be seen no matter the weather. I worked in neighborhoods often after dark, sometimes visiting patients recovering from knife or bullet wounds. I also carried methadone in a flimsy lockbox, and my risk of being mugged was no joke.

    Despite these and other challenges, I wouldn’t trade nursing for anything —it’s a great career, and I’ve never looked back.

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    Advice for Men in Nursing

    There’s much to think about if you’re seriously considering a nursing career, including the potential challenges and rewards.

    Consider asking yourself these questions:

    • Am I comfortable entering a woman-dominated profession?
    • Do I have the desire to develop both soft and hard skills? Are communication and emotional intelligence as important to me as knowing how to operate an IV pump?
    • Do I enjoy problem-solving and critical thinking?
    • Is my view of nursing comprehensive enough, or do I think of nurses as only working in hospitals?
    • Nursing and healthcare are very reliant on technology. Do I enjoy working with computers?
    • What do I think about the risks involved in nursing? Do I understand that burnout, compassion fatigue, physical injury, and emotional trauma can be part of the job?
    • Am I willing to take excellent care of myself in order to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, throughout my career?

    If you’re serious about becoming a nurse, conduct thorough research:

    • Learn about the educational pathways into the profession, how long they take, how much they cost, and how much work is involved.
    • Study the numerous nursing specialties, including non-clinical options.
    • Find nurses who work in different specialties and pick their brains. Find out what they like and dislike and what mistakes they’ve made.
    • Consider if a nursing career fits with your long-term goals.
    • If you have a partner or spouse, discuss what nursing school and a nursing career might look like.

    Next Steps for Aspiring Male Nurses

    Once you’ve asked yourself the hard questions and done your research, it’s time to decide. If you want to go to nursing school, find the degree program you want and which schools attract you. Your initial degree choices include:

    When preparing to apply, consider your resume. Nursing schools like applicants who have been involved in healthcare or related fields, even as volunteers. Ways to bolster your resume include becoming a certified nursing assistant or EMT, both of which provide great hands-on clinical experience. You can also volunteer for a hospice, hospital, or social service agency.

    Other things to do: