As if nursing wasn’t already tough enough, male nurses have to contend with a lot of negative, gender-based stereotypes whenever they don their cotton scrubs. These stereotypes make it more difficult for male nurses to do their jobs well, especially if patients are suspicious of their competence just because they’re male. Here are six male nursing stereotypes that need to be shattered.
1. All nurses are women.
While it’s true that women make up a very high proportion of active nurses, there are some men who work as nurses, too. Approximately 89 percent of nurses are women, and 11 percent are men. While this isn’t a high number, it does prove that not all nurses are women. Other numbers make it clear why nursing is an attractive profession regardless of your gender. The 2019 median pay for registered nurses was $73,300 per year, much higher than the median annual wage for all workers, which was $39,810. If you’re a man looking for a well-paying and fast-growing career in health care, nursing might be the ticket.
2. Nursing is an inherently female role.
Men are expected to be ambitious and career-driven, while women are expected to be caring and nurturing. As a result, caregiving activities are often associated with women’s roles. This includes child care, cooking, household chores, and tending to the sick. Some patients may assume that men lack the nature and bedside manner to be good nurses simply because of their gender, which just isn’t true. This stereotype is most apparent in OB-GYN specialties, since many female patients are uncomfortable with having a male nurse and don’t believe they can provide the care that they need.
3. Male nurses are failed doctors…
Since most nurses are female and most doctors are male, some people make the leap to conclude that any male nurses must have tried to make it as doctors, but couldn’t cut it. This stereotype is harmful because it treats nursing as inferior to being a physician, when, in fact, both roles are necessary to patient care. Without nurses to actually take care of patients and execute the day to day duties, doctors would be able to heal a lot fewer patients. Maybe a few people decided to enroll in nursing school because they couldn’t get into medical school, but the vast majority of nurses—both male and female—have deliberately chosen nursing.
4. …or studying to become doctors.
Some patients will also assume that any men wearing stretch scrubs must be doctors in training, a corollary to the above stereotype. They may ask male nurses how long they’re planning to work as a nurse before they become a doctor, or ask when they will be going to medical school. Again, this stereotype is fueled by the belief that nursing is inferior to practicing medicine. If patients make these kinds of statements, try to use it as a teaching moment to educate them about how nursing is not a gender-specific field and explain why nursing is just as legitimate as being a physician.
5. Men become nurses because it’s easier.
This stereotype is also related to the idea that being a doctor is superior to being a nurse. In this case, people believe that being a nurse is easier than becoming a physician and, therefore, assume that any male nurse was too lazy to try for a more rigorous health care career. Of course, as all nurses know, nursing is a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding career. No matter your gender, it takes resilience and toughness to make it as a nurse—and it is not automatically easier than any other health care profession.
6. Male nurses are a joke.
Media is to blame for this stereotype. Male nurses are either not shown at all, or they’re portrayed to be the butt of the joke. For instance, in the 2000 comedy Meet the Parents, Greg Focker (played by Ben Stiller) is a male nurse, and there are running gags throughout the movie that center on making fun of Greg precisely because he is a male nurse and doesn’t work in a more “masculine” profession. Treating male nurses as a joke, rather than taking them seriously, further contributes to stereotypes and undermines the serious work that nurses of all genders do.
These male nursing stereotypes harm male nurses and the patients they’re trying to treat. Help to do your part to dispel these myths by working to educate people whenever they express these stereotypes.
Men’s Health Month is recognized every June, but it’s not a month exclusively for men. Men’s Health Month is an opportunity for men to learn more about their own health and how to protect it, but it’s also a time when women who have men in their lives—partners, husbands, brothers, fathers, friends, sons, mentors—can help support their healthy efforts.
Men have different health challenges from women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the leading causes of death among all men and of all ages are as follows:
- Heart disease
- Unintentional injury
- Chronic lower respiratory disease
By age group, the patterns are clear. Men aged 1-44 die most often from unintentional injuries. From ages, 45 to 84, cancer takes over as the leading killer of all men. For men aged 85 and older, heart disease is the top threat.
While heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injury cause untold suffering, there are steps men can take throughout their lives to help improve their health and lessen their chances of dying early.
Heart disease is a top killer worldwide and is often a silent disease, sometimes striking without other overt symptoms. It can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure.
Some common health problems are significant contributors to heart disease. The American Heart Association points to heart disease risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, genetics, and obesity as contributing to the condition. Cancer is often caused by similar or the same triggers. According to the American Cancer Society, some cancer risk can be mitigated with healthier lifestyle choices and habits. Smoking, obesity, diet, activity level, and screening and vaccinations can help prevent some cancers.
As the third leading cause of death for men, unintentional injury seems like one that is out of the control of most people. But there are ways to incorporate safety measures into day-to-day life that will help men stay safer.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion says the complexities around what causes an unintentional injury can have roots deep in social issues. But individuals can take steps to keep themselves physically safe in many instances. Alcohol and drug use can play a major role in events that lead to an unintentional injury, as can safety and anti-violence measures in the home and neighborhood environment.
Some easy fixes are never swimming alone, always wearing a seatbelt, making sure there are no loose rugs or other fall or trip hazards at home, careful home improvement activities, nurturing relationships, and not texting or being distracted while driving. Other factors are much harder to remedy easily including equitable access to reliable healthcare and emergency services, as well as perceptions and attitudes toward violence.
As men strive to live healthier lives and take control over the factors that can impact their short- and long-term health, beginning with what they are able to control is the first step.
For more than a century, nursing has been thought of as the domain of women. But that has fluctuated over the last few centuries. Men actually dominated nursing through the mid-19th century. During the Industrial Revolution, men began leaving nursing for factory jobs. Florence Nightingale led the advancement of women in nursing, targeting upper and middle class women for nurse training. In fact, men were not allowed to serve in the Army Nurse Corps during World Wars I and II. Today, as workplaces evolve, more men are entering the profession again amidst a nursing shortage.
About 13% of nurses in the U.S. today are men, compared with 2% in 1960, according to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. However, in the high-paying specialty of nurse anesthetist, there is an equal number of men and women.
The United States is leading the way in the increase in the number of male nurses. While the U.S. rate of men in nursing was not much higher than in Switzerland and Brazil in 1970, it rose rapidly over the next several decades and far surpassed these countries in addition to Portugal and Puerto Rico.
The rise of men in nursing is due in part to a shift in available jobs, especially as traditionally male-dominated jobs in manufacturing jobs like automakers have been taken over by automation or moved overseas for cheaper labor. A recent study published in the journal Social Science Research reviewed eight years of Census data. The study found that of men who had worked in male-dominated industries and then became unemployed, 14% decided to enter industries dominated by women, such as nursing. Eighty-four percent of men who didn’t lose jobs moved onto traditionally female jobs. Unemployed men who got jobs in female industries received a pay increase of 3.80% when making the move.
Where the Jobs Are
Another reason propelling more men into nursing is a shortage of nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for registered nurses will grow 12% between 2018 and 2028, much quicker than the average of other professions. There will be a need for 3.19 million nurses by 2024.
California is expected to have the highest shortage of nurses, and Alaska will have the most job vacancies. Other states that will face shortages of nurses in the next few years include Texas, New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia, and South Dakota.
One driver of the need for more nurses is the growth of the aging population, who will require more medical care. Job growth is expected in long-term care facilities, especially for the care of stroke and Alzheimer’s patients. The need for nurses treating patients at home or in retirement communities will continue to grow. The rise in chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity also means more nurses will be needed.
Pay and Training
The median annual wage for registered nurses was $71,730 in 2018, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% earned less than $50,800, and the highest 10% earned more than $106,530. Those working for the government and hospitals earned the most.
But like many other professions, men are outpacing women in pay. Male RNs make an average of $5,000 more per year than their female counterparts, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This salary gap hasn’t improved since the first year the salary survey was done in 1988. The difference in pay ranges from $7,678 per year for ambulatory care to $3,873 for work in hospitals. The largest gap, $17,290 for nurse anesthetists, may explain why so many men enter that specialty.
The researchers note that increasing transparency in how much employees are paid could help narrow the gap. In addition, part of the pay gap may be due to women taking more time out of the workforce for raising their children. FiscalTiger.com suggests that offering adequate leave to both mothers and fathers after the birth of a child could have a role in making pay more equitable.
The Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s report suggests that the amount of formal training required to become a registered nurse may bring men into nursing from other occupations later in their careers. The minimum training for registered nurses is an Associate Degree in Nursing. Increasingly, employers are demanding more education, however. That includes earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. RNs in the U.S. military must have a BSN, and the Veteran’s Administration, which employs the most RNs in the country, requires a BSN for promotion.
While men are still a minority in nursing, various programs offer support and networking. The American Association for Men in Nursing was founded in 1971 but shuttered in a few years. In 1980 it was reformed and now has thousands of members. It encourages men of all ages to become nurses and supports their professional growth.
Some nursing schools also have groups to support male nursing students. New York University, for example, has Men Entering Nursing (MEN), open to all nursing students at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing to discuss the concerns and perceptions that affect men and what it means to be a male in the field of nursing.
Sometimes nurses know they are destined for a lifelong nursing career; for other nurses, it’s as if the career chooses them.
That’s how Jonathan Llamas DNP (c), BSN, RN-BC, PHN, found his way to nursing. Knowing the career would be a good fit for his compassionate nature and his innate ability to have empathy for others, Llamas applied for nursing school right out of high school.
“I knew the work was selfless and inspiring,” he says, “but I went into nursing school with some naiveté. I knew I had the qualities to be a successful nurse, but I didn’t understand the amount of hard work and dedication required for me to excel in the heavily science-based coursework.”
Llamas was unprepared and struggled with the demands of the course load. Looking back, Llamas sees how his path started to become rockier, even as he wanted to succeed. He lacked the mindset to focus on his work. “I didn’t commit the time necessary for me to be successful,” he says.
Transferring to community college, Llamas finished his prereq courses, but says his lackluster GPA set him up for a cycle of rejections from other nursing programs. Determined, Llamas pressed on but struggled with setbacks that would have had other students choosing another path.
“Based on my GPA, my community college counselor said, ‘You don’t have what it takes to be a nurse,’” says Llamas. Feeling demoralized by the comment, Llamas still felt that nursing was his calling. He just had to find a way to get there. “I had to prove to myself I could do it,” he says, “and that I could do well under pressure.”
The toll from the rejection was growing though. As a first-generation college student from a supportive Filipino family, Llamas recalls his mother’s upset at all the rejection for him and it struck a nerve.
“I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘How do I want to be remembered? Do I want to be a father who inspires his kid to rise above adversity or fold under pressure?’” Llamas says. “I didn’t want to be the latter. I wanted to make something of myself.”
Determined to succeed, Llamas applied to West Coast University’s nursing program, and they gave him another chance. He didn’t throw it away and graduated in 2013. I learned that if I wanted to be successful, I have to apply myself,” he says. “I carry that now. If you want something, you have to work for what you want. We are all different in terms of the resources we have initially. We are not all starting at the same starting line.”
“Hopefully my story will inspire others,” says Llamas. He wants students to be academically and mentally ready at the outset so they aren’t surprised by the intensity and high expectations of nursing school. “You have to sacrifice to be successful,” he says. “It’s hard, but it’s temporary. Do your research, and know why you want to be a nurse. Have a vision for yourself and your future.”
As Llamas has learned, there is a level of commitment to nursing that is necessary to be an exceptional nurse. “There’s a difference between your passion and your purpose,” he says. Having the inherent ability to be a successful nurse often makes one’s passion for nursing grow stronger, he says. “I understand that nursing requires sacrifice, but the most rewarding thing you can do is provide such incredible care to a patient.”
For Llamas, persistence has paid off. He is set to graduate this spring with his DNP from Loma Linda University and juggles his academic load with a full-time schedule as a psychiatric mental-health nurse. “I am fortunate to have hit this stride in my career,” he says. The advanced degree will help him reach his future goals of influencing change in nursing by providing a different form of influence beyond the bedside. He envisions working as an NP, becoming an educator to help future nurses, and using his platform to help other nurses.
“If you had said to me 10 years ago that I would accomplish this, I would have said you were crazy,” he says. “If I have impacted someone’s life for the better, then I have lived a life worth living. I feel blessed, humbled, and grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.”
On January 1, 2019, Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, became president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), the first man ever to hold the position. As a minority nurse trailblazer with more than 30 years of clinical and leadership experience, he was well equipped to break one of the remaining glass ceilings in nursing.
Grant, who holds a PhD in nursing, headed North Carolina’s nationally renowned Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where he started as a staff nurse in 1982. He has deep roots in the area, having earned his bachelor’s from North Carolina Central University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from UNC-Greensboro.
An internationally recognized expert on burn care and fire safety, Grant was presented with a Nurse of the Year Award in 2002 by former President George W. Bush for his work treating burn victims from the World Trade Center site of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Grant won the election by an overwhelming majority of votes from his colleagues after having served as vice president of the ANA and being an active member for decades. The organization has served nurses for 122 years, and now represents more than four million registered nurses nationwide.
Grant intends for his appointment to help unravel stereotypes about men in nursing. He plans to use his term to address some of the most pressing issues in the field, such as a looming nursing shortage that more inclusionary educational recruiting practices could alleviate.
We interviewed Dr. Ernest Grant to learn more about his historic election as ANA president and what the future holds for the association under his leadership.
ANA President Ernest Grant
Photo credit: Max Englund/UNC Health Care
What are your top priorities as far as encouraging more diversity in nursing?
Increasing gender and ethnic diversity in nursing is one of my top priorities. A nursing shortage is expected as the general population is aging, and experienced baby boomer nurses are retiring. (Projections are that 500,000 seasoned RN’s will retire by 2022, and 1.1 million new nurses will be required to replace them.) There are ways we can avoid this [predicated shortage], which include recruiting more men into nursing and increasing diversity across the profession.
How will you encourage greater diversity in the nursing profession?
There should be more people of different backgrounds entering the profession so that it reflects society. One way to achieve this is through better access to scholarships and other educational and community resources. People of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds must know what’s available—that there are federal loans geared to nurses, for instance.
A nursing assistant may not be aware that taking courses at a community college is possible or that an employer may offer tuition assistance. But the stumbling block is not always money; it could be having young children or home responsibilities. Online training or resources in the community that pay for child care would be the solution then.
What would encourage more men to pursue the nursing profession?
Men are joining the profession. Seeing someone who resembles them in the health care system has helped empower them to become nurses. Promoting images of men in nursing needs to begin early, starting at the grade school level and letting boys see men who are nurses. “Here’s somebody who I can identify with,” they will think. Then at the high school level, it gets reemphasized by a guidance counselor or health occupation program. In those programs, they can get certified as a nursing associate, and obtain more exposure to nursing.
Currently, 9 to 13 percent of nurses are men, but when I started it was much less. (Probably it was only 3 to 4 percent.) Several things are contributing to the increased interest, including increased representation in advertising and the media. Another is men who served as medics in the military but then unfortunately don’t [immediately] qualify for any nursing jobs. There are some accelerated nursing courses nationwide for former medics. In my state, they can choose nursing school, PA school, or medical school—all are good options for our military folks.
How did you get interested in nursing and decide to make it your career?
I grew up in a very poor community, as the youngest of seven, and my father died young. It took a village. Everyone knew everybody and people made sure you studied and didn’t misbehave. They said they knew I was going to successful.
When I got into nursing—I started as an LPN—I intended to go on to medical school. I got exposed to men in nursing and was fortunate enough to have multiple mentors to go to for advice. These are still my mentors. Thanks to Dr. Gene Tranbarger and others, who paved the pathway for me. When I started my studies in the mid-70’s and early 80’s, there were many stereotypes about men in nursing, but you don’t hear them as much anymore.
People know: Men are just as capable of providing care as women. You can be masculine and still care. I’m 6’6” and very large, so a lot of people may think “this guy is going to hurt me” but I’m really a gentle giant. They would soon realize that and ask for me as their nurse.
How has being a racial minority impacted your career as a nurse?
It has impacted my career, especially in the early years. (I grew up during time when segregation was ending.) Once in a while, you may meet someone who doesn’t want you to care for them because of your sex or color or both. Now it doesn’t happen as often. You have to prove yourself to be just as competent of a nurse as your white counterpart.
Have there been other minority nurse presidents in ANA’s history?
Yes, ANA has had two African American presidents, Barbara Nichols (served 1978-1982) and Beverly Malone (served 1996-2000).
I would like to be judged by my capabilities, not by my race or gender. My leadership skills are what got me here. I’ve worked very hard to win the respect of my colleagues. Men ran before for ANA president but faced a lot of obstacles. I’m looking forward to this challenge and endeavor.
What do you want MinorityNurse.com readers to know?
Consider joining ANA and your state nurses association if you’re not already a member. As you begin your career, I want to encourage you to be more politically savvy at the legislative level. You need to be more aware of how decisions in the house or senate may hurt your ability to practice to your full license and educational level. Or it may limit your ability to treat patients—if they can’t get to us to access care [due to political efforts to replace or end the ACA]. If we’re not smart enough to advocate for our patients, then we’re doing a disservice to them.
Get out there and attend town hall meetings that your representatives are having, and volunteer to serve on their committees as a health care expert. Who else out there is more of a health care expert than a nurse? I would challenge all nurses to be more politically astute about how decisions at the state and national level affect the nursing profession.
There is a growing demand for more nurses in general and that the demand for male nurses is currently on the rise. Male nurses are increasing their presence at the bedside, hospital, clinic, and nursing home. The American Association for Men in Nursing (AAMN) profiles the progress of its campaign for a 20% increase in the number of male nurses in the workforce by 2020. We all know that the nursing profession would benefit from a more diverse representation of gender, age, and cultures within the workforce.
Male nurses are bringing balance to the profession, which benefits patients as a whole. Having male nurses ensures that male patients are well cared and represented. Sometimes patients prefer a nurse of a certain sex, particularly for procedures like inserting a catheter, serving a bedpan, or administering EKG. Male nurses have skills and care-giving strengths that can make nursing an excellent career for them. Importantly, the benefits of being a male nurse are the same benefits of being a nurse.
If you are male and thinking about becoming a nurse, don’t hesitate to explore the career and most importantly look into yourself to ensure that this is the right career for you. Nursing is a challenging job and one that requires hard work, integrity, and dedication. Nurses can treat every patient regardless of gender, but dealing with human sickness and patients who may be crabby and cranky is simply a fact of life for nurses. As nurse, you are able to help patients and give them a level of comfort and put them at ease. The world of nursing holds many possibilities. There are over 100 different nursing specialties available and there are plenty of ways to advance your career if you are willing to work hard. Since not everyone has what it takes to be a nurse, there are a lot of considerations when it comes to nursing and what your personality needs to be like in order to be a good nurse.
Here are four key questions to ask yourself.
1. How well do you cope with stress and emergency situations?
Nursing jobs can be stressful at times. If you are someone who can work well under pressure and copes well with stress, you will do well as a nurse.
2. Are you easily offended?
Nurses sometimes come in contact with patients who are hostile or unfriendly. Being easily offended can make your nursing job difficult and stressful quickly.
3. Do you consider yourself to never stop learning?
The field of health care is continuously changing, whether it is a new disease or recently discovered new treatment, nurses learn something new every day. Therefore, a good nurse is always ready to learn more.
4. Are you a team player?
Teamwork is essential in nursing to getting the job done right and improving the patient’s health. Nurses, who enjoy their job, work well with other team members.