A profession once dominated by females is gradually getting more diverse, despite a lingering gender bias among patients and health care administrators
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Picture a nurse. Did an image of a kindly faced woman in white or scrubs come to mind?
Decades-long female dominance in nursing has contributed to the gender stereotype of women nurses.
While women still outnumber men in nursing, more men have joined the ranks.
“The numbers of male nurses have been consistently increasing, from a low of about 2.6 percent in 1970 to a reported high of anywhere from 10 to 13 percent today,” said Cheryl Nosek, chairwoman of the department of nursing and a nursing professor at Daemen College.
She said that ongoing nursing shortages, along with stepped-up recruitment, has helped increase the number of men in nursing in recent decades. Men also want the good pay, job security, flexibility and opportunities for advancement, too.
“Men often look to nursing as a second, more secure profession when downsizing and lay-offs in other fields lead to loss of employment,” Nosek said.
She sees endless opportunities in the nursing profession, from many clinical areas of care in numerous settings, with all age ranges and in managerial and educational roles.
“Opportunities for advancement are also available through continuing education options,” Nosek said.
Nurses can specialize in an area of medicine and obtain a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree.
David Goede, doctorate nurse practitioner and lead APP (advanced practice provider) manager for cardiovascular service line at University of Rochester Medical Center, remembered that in 1985 when he earned his associate’s degree in nursing, men represented only 2 percent of nurses.
“I had often encountered the question as why I chose nursing as a career,” he said. “As I contemplated this question, the next question that was usually asked is, ‘Are you working on becoming a doctor?’ I have always had difficulty trying to understand the basis of these questions. Do we ever ask female physicians why they chose to be a physician and not a nurse? To me, these comments exemplify bias of career choices based on gender.”
Goede also serves as acute care nurse practitioner, cardiac surgical service at Strong Memorial Hospital; assistant professor of clinical nursing at University of Rochester School of Nursing; and regional director Region 2, Nurse Practitioner Association of New York State.
David “Grant” Hewitt, nurse practitioner and instructor of nursing at Monroe Community College, said that in 2008,5.7 percent of fall nursing students were men. In 2017, it was 26 percent.
Hewitt said that men can leverage their usually greater strength for the tasks nurses face, such as moving patients.
“Men also tend to go into high-stress nursing situations, like the ICU or the ER,” Hewitt said. “Maybe it’s adrenaline; they like it.”
Like women, men also have opportunities to seek further education to obtain supervisory roles, work in education or, in the case of nurse practitioners with more than 3,600 hours of clinical experience, practice without a collaborative agreement with a physician.
Hewitt said that men get hired for management roles in nursing “much faster” than women. They also receive better pay, on average.
He said that it’s not uncommon for patients to call male nurses “doctor” because they feel sure that nurses are female. Or to insist that they do not want a male nurse helping them. Sometimes, Hewitt kindly asks if they would feel the same way about a male doctor.
Hewitt said that despite lingering gender bias among patients and health care facility administration, he wants more high schools to promote nursing as a good career option for all students.
“This is a great job,” he said. “Nursing isn’t female anymore. You’ll always have a job, so there’s great job security. I think that’s part of the reason it’s changing.”
Men Were the First Nurses
According to Cheryl Nosek, chairwoman of the department of nursing and professor at Daemen College:
• “Men were actually the first nurses. The first recorded nursing school in 250 BC only admitted men because ‘only men were pure enough to become nurses.’
• “Religious orders of men provided nursing care from about the 5th century through the 1800s.
• “Florence Nightingale, who took a group of female nurses to care for soldiers in the Crimean War in 1853, referred to male nurses as orderlies. She believed that it was women who had the caring qualities necessary to become a nurse. This, among other factors, led to the growth of nursing as a female profession.”