Why the Ratio of Men in Nursing Is Growing

11/07/2017

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Why the Ratio of Men in Nursing is GrowingWhile still in the minority, men are entering nursing at a higher rate than ever before, adding diversity to the profession, according to two new studies. 

Just what is the attraction? 

“I think there is a snowball effect – as more men become nurses, more men want to become nurses,” said Christine Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, a professor at the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and lead author of a paper that found male nurses increased from 8.8 percent in a 2005 cohort from 13 states to 13.6 percent in a 2015 cohort. 

Jason Mott, PhD, RN, CNE, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and secretary of the American Association of Men in Nursing, agreed, indicating today’s male nurses can serve as role models for nursing candidates and help break down barriers.

“If we can expand the number of men in nursing, it will show men who are interested that this is something [they] can actually do,” Mott said. 

Elizabeth Munnich, assistant professor of economics at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and Abigail Wozniak, associate professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, recently reported that the percentage of men in nursing increased from 2.2 percent in 1960 to 13 percent by 2013. 

“The growth rate of men going into nursing is tremendous,” Munnich said. “We don’t see women going into nursing at the same rates men are going into it.”

Additionally, Munnich found that the trend of more men in nursing is specific to the United States, not other countries. Men also are not entering other female-dominated occupations at as great a rate as nursing, she said. 

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Drivers of change

Munnich delved into the reasons the number of male nurses is rising, and found greater high school completion and access to two-year colleges, greater urbanization, and a liberalization of gender role attitudes contributed to the increase. Some of their findings were surprising. 

Although one would think worse labor market conditions might drive men toward nursing, Munnich found the opposite. In leaner times, the percentage of male nurses tended to decrease.

“We were struck by that, because it is not, typically, the trend we see for nurses,” Munnich said. “When the economy is poor, healthcare is a stable market, and nursing is a stable career path and recession proof.” 

One reason might be that there is more competition for nursing jobs by men and women during harder economic times, Munnich said. Another possibility is that workers are less likely to take on riskier prospects when the economy is not great, and men might consider a nursing career risky. 

Munnich also found more men are entering the field in their 30s. They also are taking advantage of accelerated BSN programs, which help people transition into nursing from other careers. 

“Having those paths into nursing, that may not be traditional, are really important,” Munnich said.

Mott reported that some second-degree nursing programs have 20 percent to 50 percent male students. Yet the number of males in traditional four-year programs remains smaller. 

“They try some other career, don’t like it and think they can be a nurse,” Mott said. 

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Barriers and opportunities

Into the 19th century, nursing care was primarily delivered by monks, according to Munnich’s paper. Men left the profession during the Industrial Revolution. 

Yet, even today, many men are providing care to family members. Mott is working on initiatives supporting male family caregivers, after an AARP study showed 40 percent of family caregivers are men. 

“Women are more socialized into the caregiving role, and when men have to provide care, they struggle with it,” Mott said. 

Munnich reported changes in traditional roles for men and women are breaking down. 

“Men view this, rightly so, as a high-skilled, relatively high-paying job and challenging, not a gender job,” Munnich said. “Men seem to be going into acute-care settings much more than women are.”

Mott indicates that older adults are more likely to hang on to the old stereotypes of male nurses. 

“There is still a stigma, but it is not as pronounced as it used to be,” Mott said. 

Munnich reported that the number of men and women in some specialties, such as nurse anesthetists, are the same.  

“I think men also saw more nurses becoming nurse practitioners and anesthetists, which offer more independence and more money and saw nursing as a good option,” Kovner said. 

One of the benefits of a nursing career is the number of varied opportunities it offers for men and women. 

“There are so many areas you can do in nursing,” Mott said. “It opens a lot of variety, and it’s always going to be a stable career and a higher paying career.”

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