In 2008, there were 3,063,163 licensed registered nurses in the United States. Only 6.6% of those were men and 16.8% were non-Caucasian.1 Despite efforts from nursing schools across the nation to recruit and retain more men and minorities, the results have been fairly modest.  In 2010, approximately 11% of the students in baccalaureate programs were men and 26.8% were a racial/ethnic minority.2 We know that student nurses, in general, face many obstacles such as academic pressure. However, studies have shown that male student nurses experience additional barriers and discrimination, such as: lack of information and support from guidance counselors; lack of sufficient role models; unequal clinical opportunities and requirements; isolation; poor instruction on the appropriate use of touch; and a lack of teaching strategies appropriate to male learning needs.3-10 And student nurses from minority groups encounter unique obstacles as well. They must often contend with classroom biases, hostile interpersonal climates, and feelings of social isolation.11-13 To recruit and retain more men in the nursing profession, we must investigate these barriers and work on strategies to minimize stress for this important group of future nurses.

Why Men Do Not Pursue Nursing

  1. Higher Perceived Expectations. Any nursing student may struggle to live up to others’ expectations, whether those expectations come from a relative or a professor. But being a male student comes with the additional challenge of facing society’s expectations. Because nursing is predominantly female, males must work harder just to prove that they can be as competent as their female counterparts.
  2. Outnumbered. Male student nurses tend to be very “visible” to their classmates and faculty. As a result, they face extra scrutiny in and outside of the classroom. Sitting silent in the back of a classroom is often not an option when you are the only male in your class. Even still, professors may neglect to tailor their curriculum to address concerns unique to male nurses.
  3. Treated Differently. Male student nurses are expected to be physically stronger than their female peers and are often asked to assist with lifting heavy patients. They are more likely to be mistaken for a doctor or medical student in a clinical setting. And they do not always have the same opportunities as women in this field. They may miss out on scholarships created specifically for female students in a predominantly-female school or they may encounter female patients who are uncomfortable having a male nurse, particularly in obstetrics/gynecology.
  4. Ridiculed for Being a Male. One of the primary reasons more men do not pursue a career in nursing is because of the assumption that becoming a male nurse will trigger ridicule from others. For many, nursing is not viewed as a respectable profession for men. Many male nursing students will experience anxiety and stress when dealing with a patient and their family—and sometimes even their own family—because of this stigma.

Breaking the Barriers

Male students make a very conscious decision to become a nurse, and no one should be criticized for wanting to help others. To conquer gender and racial biases in the nursing profession, nursing faculty, students, and other healthcare professionals are encouraged to take the following steps:

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