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.