Despite the growing number of men entering the profession, nursing remains a female-dominated field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only about 10% of registered nurses in 2013 were male.
Due to the attached stigmas, men may hesitate to consider nursing as a viable career path. These stigmas may prevent tens of thousands of talented and compassionate people from filling roles and reducing the nationwide nursing shortage.
While many efforts have arisen to make STEM careers more accessible for women, experts argue that too few initiatives encourage men to serve as nurses or in other caregiver roles. As a result, nursing suffers from a lack of gender diversity that negatively affects both male and female nurses, as well as their patients.
This page offers guidance and encouragement for men who are considering careers in nursing. Read on for key tips for male nurses and nursing students on pushing back against common stigmas.
Common Stigmas and Stereotypes Faced by Male Nurses
Nursing is Women's Work
While women represented the clear majority of nursing professionals throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, increasing numbers of men continue to enter the field and fill critical roles in the healthcare industry.
The modern nursing profession began with Florence Nightingale, who established the first nursing schools in England in the 1850s. While these schools provided opportunities that were otherwise unavailable to women at the time, they also excluded men. Over the years, nursing became known as "women’s work," with nurses commonly thought of as assistants to mostly male doctors.
This stigma harms the healthcare industry because it can discourage men from pursuing degrees in nursing and addressing the nursing shortages affecting communities across the United States. Far from an emasculating role, male nurses -- like all professionals in the field -- perform diagnostic tests, administer medications, and deliver treatment to patients on a daily basis.
"Nursing and being a good nurse has nothing to do with your gender," says RN Tarik Rabah. "It requires knowledge, training, compassion, confidentiality, as well as dignity and respect for all people -- regardless of background, ethnicity, gender expression, age, financial status, sexual orientation, military status, faith tradition, or anything else."
Nursing Wasn't Their First Choice
Men face another common misperception that they simply “settled” on nursing because they did not possess the skills, knowledge, or drive to become physicians. In reality, men pursue nursing for a variety of reasons, with few viewing it as a backup option or stepping stone to a career as a doctor.
"When I first visit patients at home, many assume I’m a doctor and want to know about my background," says Ozail Bennett, RN-TNCC. "I tell them that nursing was always my first career choice and that I love being a nurse! In fact, I think nurses are luckier than doctors because we get to know our patients better and I think the job is more personally rewarding."
Nursing offers exceptional career options for men and women, including high salaries and job growth potential, along with the option to secure a master’s or doctoral degree and serve as an advanced practice nurse. Nurse practitioners, for example, can make more than $100,000 per year, with the BLS projecting a 26% job growth rate over the next decade.
Nurses enjoy a variety of options in terms of career paths, including clinical, managerial, and research roles within healthcare organizations.
Men Lack the Empathy Needed to Be a Nurse
Our society engrains into us many misperceptions about males, with common sayings like "men don't cry" and "boys will be boys." While these ideas may seem harmless on a surface level, they can lead us to believe men lack the empathy needed to properly care for others.
Research shows men can even face consequences for defying gender norms in some workplaces. On the other hand, studies have found that men demonstrate just as much compassion as women in clinical settings.
"It seems that many patients and their family members assume male nurses are less empathetic, compassionate, skilled, and patient than their female counterparts," says Bennett. "I’ve found that it’s easy to win people over. It just takes time. Actions, as is often said, speak louder than words. When it becomes clear that you care and treat all patients with dignity and respect, presumptions about your capabilities fade away."
This inaccurate stigma can dissuade talented and compassionate men from entering the nursing field, preventing them from using their skills and talents to truly help people.
Tips for Male Nurses
Focus on Being a Great Nurse
Always remember that you strive to serve as a highly competent and caring nurse -- not just a male nurse. "The number one thing I can think of to help new nurses -- male or female -- is to show their passion for helping people," says Joe Shaeffer, DNP, an assistant professor of nursing and former RN. "Showing compassion helps ease tensions in any situation," he adds. "When people relax, they can develop a level of trust with the healthcare worker that breeds healing. Healing should be the number one goal of all healthcare professionals."
Give Respect Where Respect is Due
While the overwhelming majority of patients do not care about their nurse's gender, a few may request a female nurse. Don’t let this get you down. Try to maintain an attitude of understanding and realize that some patients may have good reason for being more comfortable around one nurse over another. Do not take it personally.
Don’t Sweat Gender Bias
While the overwhelming majority of patients do not care about their nurse's gender, a few may request a female nurse. Don’t let this get you down. Try to maintain an attitude of understanding and realize that some patients may have good reason for being more comfortable around women. Do not take it personally.
Be Active in the Field
Join professional groups like the National Student Nursing Association, American Nurses Association, and the Brotherhood of Nursing. These groups allow you to improve your skills while interacting with other male nurses and nursing students. Associations can also help you get more comfortable with your chosen profession and overcome the stigmas sometimes associated with male nurses.
Remember Why You Became a Nurse
We live in a society in which gender biases will lead to certain assumptions. Some people will automatically assume that a man wearing scrubs is a physician rather than a nurse. With time, you will get used to this misunderstanding and learn to ignore it, or even laugh it off. At the end of the day, you're doing the job you chose to do.
"I’ve found that the best thing I can do is let my actions speak for themselves," says Rabeh. "In time, people realize that I’m a caring nurse and good at what I do because I love what I do."
Tarik Rabah, RN
Rabah earned his bachelor's degree in criminal justice from St. John’s University in 2008. Following graduation, he worked for a major ATM service company while pursuing a nursing program at City Tech – New York College of Technology. He graduated in 2017, and has worked at Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in New York City since the spring of 2019.
Joe Shaeffer, DNP, RN
Dr. Shaeffer found his calling for nursing while watching the care given to his ailing mother in his late teen years. He worked as an RN for several years before realizing that he could help more people by sharing his passion for nursing through teaching. He is now the assistant professor of nursing and interim coordinator of the RN-BSN program at Muskingum University. Dr. Shaeffer earned his ADN, BSN, and MSN degrees at Ohio University and later his DNP at Otterbein University.
Ozail Bennett, RN-TNCC
Bennett has been a nurse for 12 years. Prior to that, he was an LPN for three years. For the past seven years, he has cared for MJHS Hospice patients who live at home, as well as provided support, encouragement, and guidance to their loved ones.