Though they may be half a world away, nursing schools in India face problems similar to those in the United States when it comes to recruiting men. The following study sought to discern the opinions of 78 senior nursing students studying in and around Pondicherry, India, regarding gender roles in their field. It aimed to determine the following:

  1. Whether nursing students have different opinions of what professional roles male and female nurses should occupy.
  2. Whether gender affects the image and status of the nursing profession.

The results of the survey indicated that most of the nursing students prefer men to occupy administrative or teaching positions. Additionally, there were statistically significant results between female and male students’ perceptions surrounding the effect of males on the image and status of nursing. These findings may impact local nursing education recruitment programs for both men and women, and perhaps the health service organization as a whole.

Men in nursing

Though they still represent a slim minority, men are increasingly pursuing careers in nursing, attracted by abundant job opportunities, good salaries, and the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. This is in no small part due to the fact that the nursing profession has worked for years to dispel misconceptions surrounding men in this female-dominated field.

What is interesting about today’s perceptions of gender in nursing is that until the days of Florence Nightingale in the late 19th century, nursing was a male-dominated profession.1 Nightingale considered nursing a suitable job for women because it was an extension of their domestic roles. Her image of the nurse as nurturing, domestic, humble, and self-sacrificing became prevalent. Qualities associated with women, like compassion and dependency, align with those often attributed to nurses.2 In modern times, the social construction of the role of a nurse has typically meant a caring, hardworking woman. Nursing, in the span of Nightingale’s lifetime, became identified as a profession deeply embedded in the female gender.3

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On the other side of the gender divide, men who enter nursing may still face questions about their masculinity or sexuality. Sociologists describe sex role socialization as “instrumental” for men and “expressive” for women. The characteristics of instrumental socialization include aggression and the ability to compete, lead, and wield power to accomplish tasks. Expressive socialization includes learning to nurture and be sensitive to needs of others. Many female dominated positions, including nursing, have difficulty attracting male recruits. This can be attributed in part to issues such as status and pay, but also to the gender stereotyping of the profession. Although the number of males in nursing has increased in recent years, the underlying feminization of nursing is still an important issue.4 Persistent and outdated gender stereotypes are a big part of the problem.

Today, men still only make up between 5%–10% of the nursing workforce in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. Although it’s a small percentage, today’s statistics actually represent an over 20% increase in the number of male nurses in the past two decades.5 There are many supposed reasons for the lack of men in nursing. For example, if a man’s peers consider nursing emasculating, he has a disincentive for becoming a nurse.6 Another reason suggested is the lower economic status associated with the nursing field.3 However, the most commonly proposed reason is that men are less likely to enter jobs associated with women than women are to enter those positions traditionally held by men.

Despite the obvious disproportion of male nurses to all men, studies have also shown men are overrepresented in senior nursing posts.2 They achieve promotion more quickly than women at all levels of the nursing hierarchy above the entry-level positions. This could be attributed to the vast difference in the number of female nurses who work part time, compared to part-time male nurses. Some researchers suggest that managers perceive part-time female staff to be less attached to their careers.7 Studies have consistently reported that one of the major reasons for women’s slower progress in nursing is the number and length of career breaks taken, particularly to have children. One such study indicated that women were 10 times more likely than men to have taken a career break to care for children.8 Furthermore, male nurses may be thought to bring stability to the nursing profession, which had always been considered at the mercy of marriage and motherhood, reflecting hidden advantages for men and disadvantages for women.1

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Study specifics

Participants were assured informed consent and confidentiality. All students received an explanation of the study before introduction of the questionnaire, and only those who agreed to participate continued. Students’ names were not sought in the questionnaires and their confidentiality was respected. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed were female and 38% were male.

The first part of the survey included socio-demographic data, while the second part asked students about their perception of males in nursing and the effects of recruiting males to the field. The third section asked students about their perception of gender stereotypes. Questions included:

  1. How do you feel about men in nursing?
  2. Do you think nursing is a woman’s job?
  3. Do men and women differ in their professional role?
  4. What do you think are the suitable work places and positions fit for male nurses?
  5. What do you think of the effect of men on the image of nursing?

Male nurses as perceived by both genders

Most of the female students and nearly half of the male students chose emergency units as the most “suitable” area for male nurses. Nearly 42% of the female nurses preferred men to work as instructors in nursing schools after graduation. There were significant differences between both genders’ perceptions about the nursing positions men should occupy after graduation. While 48% of the female students considered men as staff nurses, most of the male students said they should occupy administrative (40%) or teaching posts (38%) after graduation.

Significant differences were also found between the female and male students’ perceptions regarding the effect of males on the image of nursing. When asked if men improve the image of nursing, 54% of the female respondents agreed, compared to 90% of the male respondents. Cultural values, a lack of understanding about what nurses really do at work, and the way nurses are portrayed in popular media highly affect the public image of nursing.

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The results of the survey show that male students prefer administrative/instructional positions after graduation. In contrast, female students said they more often preferred men to assume staff nurse positions. While there are difficulties for men working in female-dominated professions, male nurses tend to have a faster and more straightforward career progression than their female counterparts. Male students exhibited gender role tension about nursing, as 43% considered nursing a “female” profession. (Some research reports numbers as high as 82% of male high school students would not choose nursing as a career, believing it should be a female-only profession.9, 10)

Conclusions and recommendations

The results of this study indicate that nursing continues to be seen as a female-dominated profession, especially by male students, despite the ever-increasing number of men in nursing. Stereotypical notions of gender roles possibly affect male students’ desire to occupy administrative positions after graduation, though further studies are needed.

Nursing as a profession can only benefit from a talent pool drawing a proportionate number of men. Nursing schools, health care organizations, and the media should continue to advocate for the profession, portraying positive images of the field and male nurses. A community education campaign to improve the image of nursing could also be initiated. To emphasize a nurse’s role identity without any gender segregations, school educators should encourage students to manage gender-related problems.


  1. Mackintosh, C. (1997). “A Historical Study of Men in Nursing.” Journal of Advanced Nursing, 26, 232–236.
  2. Evans, J. A. (1997). “Men in Nursing, Issues of Gender Segregation, and Hidden Advantage.” Journal of Advanced Nursing, 26, 226–231.
  3. Meadus, R. J. (2000). “Men in Nursing: Barriers to Recruitment.” Nursing Forum, 35(3).
  4. Davies, C. (1995). Gender and Professional Predicament in Nursing, Open University Press.
  5. Trossman, S. (2003). “Caring Knows no Gender: Break the Stereotype and Boost the Number of Men in Nursing.” Nevada RNformation, 12, 19.
  6. Poliafico, J. K. (1998). “Nursing’s Gender Gap.” RN, 61, 9–42.
  7. Whittock, M., and Leonard, L. (2003). “Stepping Outside the Stereotype. A Pilot Study of the Motivations and Experiences of Males in the Nursing Profession.” Journal of Nursing Management, 11, 242–249.
  8. Finlayson, L. R., and Nazroo, J. Y. (1997). “Gender Inequalities in Nursing Careers.” London: Policy Studies Institute.
  9. Cakmakci, A. (2003). “Senior High School Students’ Perceptions About Nursing as Career.” Nursing Forum, 6(1), 33–42.
  10. Andrews, K. E. (2005). “Perceptions of High School Boys Toward Nursing as a Career Choice.” Doctoral dissertation, University of Missouri. UIM number 3167305.
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