Male Nurses Becoming More Commonplace

Male Nurses Becoming More Commonplace

The nursing profession remains overwhelmingly female, but the representation of men has increased as the demand for nurses has grown over the last several decades, according to a recent US Census Bureau study.

The new study shows the proportion of male registered nurses has more than tripled since 1970, from 2.7% to 9.6%, and the proportion of male licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses has more than doubled from 3.9% to 8.1%.

The Men in Nursing Occupations study presents data from the 2011 American Community Survey to analyze the percentage of men in each of the detailed nursing occupations: registered nurse, nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse. The study also provides estimates on a wide range of characteristics of men and women in nursing occupations. These include employment status, age, race, citizenship, educational attainment, work hours, time of departure to work, median earnings, industry and class of worker.

“The aging of our population has fueled an increasing demand for long-term care and end-of-life services,” says the report’s author, Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist in the Census Bureau’s Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch. “A predicted shortage has led to recruiting and retraining efforts to increase the pool of nurses. These efforts have included recruiting men into nursing.”

Men typically outearn women in nursing fields but not by as much as they do across all occupations. For example, women working as nurses full time, year-round earned 91 cents for every dollar male nurses earned; in contrast, women earned 77 cents to the dollar men earned across all occupations.

Because the demand for skilled nursing care is so high, nurses have very low unemployment rates. Unemployment was lowest among nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists (about 0.8% for both). For registered nurses and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, these rates were a bit higher, but still very low, at 1.8% and 4.3%, respectively.

Other highlights:

  • There were 3.5 million employed nurses in 2011, about 3.2 million of whom were female and 330,000 male.
  • Of the employed nurses (both sexes), 78% were registered nurses, 19% were licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, 3% were nurse practitioners, and 1% were nurse anesthetists.
  • While most registered nurses (both sexes) left home for work between 5 a.m. and 11:59 a.m. (72%), a sizable minority (19%) worked the evening or night shifts.
  • The majority of registered nurses (both sexes) worked in hospitals (64%). The majority of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses worked in nursing care facilities or hospitals (about 30% each). The percentages for hospitals and nursing care facilities are not significantly different from each other.
  • In 2011, 9% of all nurses were men while 91% were women. Men earned, on average, $60,700 per year, while women earned $51,100 per year.
  • Men’s representation was highest among nurse anesthetists at 41%.
  • Male nurse anesthetists earned more than twice as much as the male average for all nursing occupations: $162,900 versus $60,700.


The American Community Survey provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation. The results are used by everyone from town and city planners to retailers and homebuilders. The survey is the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers, such as education, occupation, language, ancestry, and housing costs for even the smallest communities. For more information, visit

Men in Nursing

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:

  1. Nursing school faculty and nurses who are given the opportunity to precept male student nurses should make efforts to provide them with the same opportunities given to other student nurses in the program.
  2. Female student nurses should treat male student nurses with the same respect, especially in the clinical setting.
  3. Other healthcare professionals should make efforts to respect the decision male students make to become nurses. They should acknowledge their contributions to nursing and healthcare and encourage them to grow professionally.
  4. Friends and families of male student nurses should avoid being judgmental and ridiculing the decision made by these men to become nurses. Instead, friends and families should support their decision and provide all the necessary assistance and encouragement possible to help these men grow personally and professionally.
  5. A patient and his/her family should make efforts to recognize and address male student nurses by their proper title, to treat them with the same respect and dignity given to other professionals, and to provide them with the same opportunities to learn and develop professionally.
  6. Nursing school faculty, male student nurses, and male nurses should make efforts to educate the public about the invaluable contributions made by men in the nursing profession by appearing and presenting at public events such as college and career days, health fairs, and/or talk shows.
  7. It is time for an intervention study with nursing education. Just as female medical students had to break the gender barriers in medicine, male nursing students want to break the gender barriers in nursing.  n


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, “The Registered Nurse Population: Initial Findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses,” March 2010,
  2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “2011 Annual Report: Shaping the Future of Nursing Education,”
  3. T.W. Barkley and P.A. Kohler, “Is nursing’s image a deterrent to recruiting men into the profession? Male high school students respond,” Nursing Forum, 27 (1992), 9-13.
  4. N.R. Kelly, M. Shoemaker, and T. Steele, “The experience of being a male nurse,” Journal of Nursing Education, 35 (1996), 170-174.
  5. T. Kippenbrock, “School of nursing variables related to male student college choice,” Journal of Nursing Education, 29 (1990), 118-121.
  6. G.D. Okrainec, “Perceptions of nursing education held by male nursing students,” Western Journal of Nursing Research, 16 (1994), 94-107.
  7. B.L. Paterson, S. Tschikota, M. Crawford, M. Saydak, P. Venkatesh, and T. Aronowitz, “Learning to care: Gender issues for male nursing students,” Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, 28 (1996), 25-39.
  8. H.J. Streubert, “Male nursing students: Perceptions of clinical experience,” Nurse Educator, 19(1994), 29-32.
  9. I. Trachtenberg, “Hear our voices: A phenomenological perspective of male nursing students’ experiences in obstetrics,” retrieved September 24, 2009, from Texas Woman’s University Library Web site:
  10. M.J. Villeneuve, “Recruiting and retaining men in nursing: A review of the literature,” Journal of Professional Nursing, 10 (1994), 217-228.
  11. B.B. Gunnings, “Stress and the minority student on a predominately White campus,” Journal of Non-White Concerns, 11 (1982), 11-16.
  12. L.N. June, B.P. Curry, and C.L. Gear, “An-11-year analysis of Black students’ experience of problems and use of services: Implications for counseling professionals,” Journal of Counseling Psychology, 37 (1990), 178-184.
  13. G. Walker-Burt, “Relationship between person-environment fit, psychological strain and coping behaviors among student nurses,” Dissertation Abstracts International, 39 (1979), 6041.