Each month, dozens of members of a student organization here at The University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation gather to listen to a speaker, network with upperclassmen, or trade tips about getting jobs as registered nurses.
But this group differs from other student organizations here at the college—it is all male.
The Male Nursing Student Association was formed a couple of years ago. It is the brainchild of senior Brian Chitimira, a native of Grand Prairie. Chitimira, an aspiring nurse anesthetist, was inspired to form this organization when he walked into his first nursing class and found he was the only male.
Today, the association has more than 50 members.
Chitimira and his schoolmates are part of a trend that’s been sweeping the nursing profession in recent decades: male nurses.
Once viewed as a profession almost exclusively for women, nursing has seen the number of male registered nurses triple in the last 50 years, rising from 2.7 percent of the workforce in 1970 to just under 10 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of male licensed vocational nurses during that period rose from 3.9 percent to 8.1 percent.
Anecdotal information suggests that the number of registered male nurses may be even higher. Nursing schools around the country, including ours, are reporting more male enrollment in their programs. One 2013 study from the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at Vanderbilt University put the percentage of male registered nurses at 10.7. A recent story in the New York Times estimated 13 percent.
Meanwhile, the push is on to get even more men into the profession. The American Assembly for Men in Nursing has set a goal of increasing total male enrollment in nursing schools to 20 percent by 2020. Nursing school recruiters and employers are increasingly targeting men by placing ads in publications and online sites with predominantly male readerships.
In a sense, it’s ironic that the nursing profession is making a big push now to attract more men, because for hundreds of years, nursing was a male-dominated profession.
During the religious Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries, men dressed in cloaks emblazoned with crosses designating them as caregivers braved battlefields to tend to the wounded. And for centuries, men and women, usually from religious groups, provided nursing care to the sick and the dying. But by the 19th century, a shift began that would ultimately remake nursing into a female dominated profession.
English social reformer Florence Nightingale believed that women were a natural fit for roles as nurses and began educating them to provide basic health care, particularly on the battlefield, in the mid-1800s. During the American Civil War, Dorothea Dix was asked to recruit and train nurses. She hired women of strong constitutions who had no problems with maintaining sobriety and who had a “matronly” presence.
Throughout much of the late 19th century and through the early 20th century, many nursing programs either discouraged men from enrolling, or had policies against admitting them. By the mid-1930s, males made up only one percent of the nation’s nurses.
So why, in 2018, is nursing getting so much attention from men?
In an era in which lifelong employment with a single company is almost a thing of the past, and as many good-paying manufacturing jobs continue to disappear, many men recognize that nursing offers steady employment, decent pay and benefits, and the opportunity to make a difference daily.
Second, nursing offers countless opportunities for personal and professional growth, particularly as its role significantly expands on the frontlines of health care. Although men make up less than 15 percent of registered nurses, they are more than 40 percent of nurse anesthetists. While average pay for registered nurses hovers at about $60,000, it is about $160,000 for nurse anesthetists.
Third, the stigma of being a male nurse has decreased dramatically. To be sure, nursing is still perceived to be a woman’s profession; but it is increasingly becoming more socially acceptable for men. In other words, many men now recognize that being a nurse is “cool.”
Still, as we celebrate this exciting trend in the profession, it is important to remain vigilant about unintended consequences. Studies show that just as with the labor force in general across the nation, male nurses on average make more money than female nurses. Employers should make the commitment to ensure that there is parity in every aspect of the work arena, including pay. And nursing organizations should be unrelenting in their efforts to aggressively call out inequity and other forms of unfairness
That said, the rising gender diversification is a good thing for the profession. The new perspectives introduced by these growing numbers of male nurses enrich the profession in the same way that the growing numbers of women have enriched previously male-dominated professions such as law, medicine, and accounting.
Anne R. Bavier is dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington and immediate past president of the National League for Nursing.