Are We Shaming Men Out Of Nursing?

The position pays an average of $63,360 annually; it requires a 2-year degree; the benefits are good; overtime opportunities abound and you have respect. Not a bad gig when you consider a bartender averages $21,745, an accountant $42,891, a boilermaker $33,423 and an applications systems analyst $54,688. That $63,360 position is, of course, a registered nurse.

Nursing has always been a “female profession” but so has teaching. Today, male RNs account for only 5.9% of the nearly three million RNs in the US while 24.9% of the same number of teachers is male. Since the average salary for a teacher is $47,602 it is hard to understand why the doors to men in nursing remain relatively closed.

The idea that nursing is a female-only occupation is so ingrained in our psyche that we don’t even realize how it is reinforced daily. In the new hit movie “Knocked Up”, there was an attempt to garner laughs from the absurd when the L&D RN was male. When Matt Lauer reported for the “Today Show” from Cuba he explained that only certain Americans were allowed to visit including medical professionals. A group of RNs from Georgia were in the audience and Lauer turned and pointed to the group of RNs saying “these ladies…” even though there were male RNs in the group. Nurses equal women, even in Matt Lauer’s painfully appropriate world.

Currently in this country there are more females than males studying to become physicians and that is looked at as being good for women because they are finally “moving up” professionally. Nursing somehow is viewed as a “less than” occupation and men who are in nursing are often seen as not being smart enough to become a doctor. Male nurses say they have to justify themselves routinely and they find greater acceptance—whether or not they want it—in leadership or high stress areas such as ER and ICU.

Changing the gender of healthcare delivery may come from the military. The US military has always been a great training ground for nurses—male and female—as well as many other medical professionals. There are currently 1,409,323 active military personnel and 98,482 are in medical professions. While the general military population is 4:1 men to women, the military medical personnel is 64% female and 36% male. Even in that male environment, the majority of healthcare providers are female, but it is much better than the national average.

The current war in the Mideast is both hurting and helping the nursing and medical personnel shortages. Forty-percent of the reservists, who are medical workers, have been called up for active duty. This drains many hospitals of some of the best and the brightest, but while in combat these professionals are receiving great training. The medical devices—from OR instruments to imaging software in the laptop—is cutting edge.

More male RNs than not, who finish their time in the military do not stay in nursing. They claim it is because they are shamed out of the profession. Everything from needing to justify their sexual orientation to being the butt of jokes on and off the floor. They are also tired of being called to lift more than the average nurse and deal with the more irrational patients.

Part of the solution to this healthcare staffing crisis, will be keeping military RNs in the profession and making more males feel comfortable. If you are a healthcare provider and could use some well-trained RNs, then I suggest you think about picking up the military professionals who are leaving the service, providing scholarships and encouragement to males interested in the profession and providing a practice environment which does not shame men into opting out. After all, men deserve the right to make a good salary too—say $63,360.

If you have a healthcare recruiting related question you’d like me to answer on a future blog send me an email at

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Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

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