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Male Nurses Helping Change the Face of Nursing

June 2012

With healthcare emerging as one of the nation’s fastest growing industries and the demand for nurses continuing to rise, more men are showing heightened interest in the nursing profession. The growing number of men in nursing is promising for several reasons – one being that more men entering the field could help address the nursing shortage. Yet despite the narrowing of the gender gap, men can still face major hurdles as a minority in nursing.

While men were critical in creating the world’s first nursing school in India more than two thousand years ago, nursing has primarily been a career associated with women. This association is frequently reinforced in pop culture and the media, and as a result men are often asked why they became nurses instead of physicians. Courtney H. Lyder, ND, GNP, FAAN, Dean and Professor of UCLA School of Nursing has heard this question and others like it many times throughout his career. "There’s this false stereotype of male nurses," Lyder said. "Many people immediately think that men who become nurses simply do so as a backup plan and are sometimes shocked when a male enters the profession as a first choice. I would say that is the largest deterrent to attracting men to the field."

In the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Labor describes the qualifications for nurses as caring, sympathetic and patient – qualities that society sometimes projects as more feminine than masculine. The view of nursing as a "woman’s profession" is so pervasive that women are generally referred to as "nurses," while men in the profession are often qualified as "male nurses." This stereotype even exists within the field, as men in nursing often report workplace discrimination and believe that certain job areas are not open to them, according to a Journal of Christian Nursing article.

Despite the potential barriers that exist for men in the field, there are many important reasons for men to become nurses. According to a 2005 study by the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN), the number one reason men pursue nursing is because of a strong desire to help people. Beyond that, many men see nursing as a profession with many diverse career paths. The survey also revealed that 20 percent of all men respondents attended a nursing program right out of high school, while 44 percent came to nursing after another career. This suggests that more men in nursing are actively seeking the profession as a top career choice than in the past.

Because of the ongoing nursing shortage, 22 percent more jobs will need to be filled over the next few years, and Dr. Lyder has noticed that the number of men in nursing is already beginning to increase. In March 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reported that job growth in the healthcare sector will account for one out of every five new jobs created this year. As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, RNs will likely be recruited to fill many of these new positions.

"We have certainly noticed an increase in the number of men choosing nursing as a first choice, and while some may still re-evaluate their choice in profession, they generally come to the conclusion that nursing is a viable option for them," he said. "This change is very important because diversity is one of nursing’s greatest strengths. Nursing chooses people, not the other way around. Men who realize and accept this bring a unique and interesting perspective to healthcare."

For more information about men in nursing, visit www.discovernursing.com.

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