Q: Yo, dog, what's up with this nursing thing? Are you nuts?
A: Back away from the new social norms, son. Men should become nurses. Nurses make the difference between life and death, between hope and despair. Nursing is an excellent career choice for bright, ambitious men--like the more than 150,000 U.S. male nurses. Nursing is a cutting-edge science in which you can be a true leader in advancing global health. Nurses are autonomous professionals, meaning they do not report to physicians. Hundreds of thousands of nurses hold graduate degrees. Nurses are skilled clinicians, scholars, and policy-makers. They practice at the most prestigious teaching hospitals, at the sites of natural and human disasters, and in remote areas where they may be the only health resource. Nurses play a central, front-line role in responding to any mass casualty event.
Nursing is unique. You can do exciting work whose value to society is unsurpassed, making an average annual salary of over US$57,000 (in early 2004). At the same time--as a man--you can be a little subversive, confounding the expectations of some patients, friends, and yes, your parents. But nurses are pioneers, even rebels, in a deeper way. Historically and today, nurses have changed the world by challenging the established order. They revamp health systems and practices to advance the wellbeing of society in many ways, from critical research breakthroughs to aggressive policy advocacy.
We're not interested in giving you a gooey, soft-focus vision of nursing, one that's all about "touching" and "caring." So let us address some real issues you may have. Nursing has traditionally been a mostly female profession, and although the number of male nurses is increasing, less than 10% of nurses worldwide are men. However, this number is far higher in certain areas, notably the military, emergency care, and critical care. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona is a nurse (and a physician). And more and more men are now attending nursing school. In fact, increasing the number of male nurses is a critical part of helping the profession gain the power and diversity it needs to overcome the shortage. Nursing does have some problems, including short-staffing and a low level of public understanding. Male nurses are a gender minority, and so there may be some male-female communication issues. Some other nurses see men as a "muscle" resource in clinical settings. And some people may wrongly believe that all male nurses are gay, or that they're not smart or motivated enough to be physicians.
That's dead wrong. Nurses save and change lives in ways that no one else does. A recent study showed that post-surgical patient mortality increased 31% when nurses' patient loads were doubled. And a recent survey found that the vast majority of male nurses would encourage male friends to become nurses, and most actually had recruited male friends into nursing. Nursing offers a wide array of exciting specialties, fascinating interpersonal experiences, upward mobility, great geographic and scheduling flexibility, and financial security. And despite the nursing shortage, nursing is constantly growing and expanding into new areas, including advanced practice and fields at the forefront of modern science, like forensics.
Best of all, with adequate resources nursing offers an incredibly high level of job satisfaction: the knowledge that you have used your mind and heart--and muscle--to improve people's lives in major ways. You don't forget the nurse who turned your life around at your darkest hour.
So what do nurses do, specifically? For a start, nurses are the ones who really do about half of the cool things you see physician characters doing on TV, like defibrillation. Nurses deal with the full range of patient needs. Hospitals exist mainly to provide nursing care, and nurses are at the center of the hospital team, coordinating activities by a range of other professionals. Nurses monitor patients 24/7, use high technology to keep them alive, and save them if something goes wrong. They provide psycho-social care to patients and their families. They advocate for patients with other health care workers. And they teach patients how to survive with illness and embrace health. Nurses confront the most pressing public health issues, and they are responsible for key innovations that change the way health care works. Nurses help society live better and, when it's time, die with dignity. (See our FAQ "What is Nursing?" for more information on what nurses do.)
Male nurses are vital to the future of global health. Male nurses can provide the gender balance nursing needs to resolve some of its biggest challenges. We want you to be one.
For more information on men in nursing, you can also see our reviews of media on men in nursing below. Not all of them are positive depictions of nursing, but we aim to tell the truth about nursing. So here it is.
Chapter 6 of our book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All at Risk covers gender issues in nursing.
The American Nurse (2014)
Little Fockers (2010)
Meet the Fockers (2004)
Angels in America (2003)
Meet the Parents (2000)
Talk to Her (2002)
NCIS: Los Angeles
December 2016 -- The doctor school dropout
October 2015 -- Streetwalking to Welltopia
October 2014 -- Man who has a woman's job
December 2011 -- I kissed a male nurse girl!
August 2010 -- "A midwife in a world of doctors"
April 2009 -- Not a doctor, but...
October 2007 -- "Is That Even a Word--Midwifery?"
Rizzoli & Isles
August 2010 -- I kissed a male nurse girl!
February 2007 -- Scrubs lift us up where we belong
January 2003 -- Men at work: Is Scrubs hurting or helping male nurses?
February 4, 2006 -- Peter Riggs, CNM (2000-2006)
October 2005 -- "I'm here to do your bidding, Dr. Thornton."
September 2005 -- The baby man
Will & Grace
April 2004 -- Will & Grace: the nurse as twit, loser and porn actress
November 2003 -- Will & Grace bombshell: gay men like nursing!
February 2007 -- Midnight in the Garden of Nurses and Murses
News and other media
March 2014 -- Manly yes
February 2014 -- The bedpan ceiling: Scholar Linda Shields explains nursing on ABC
March 2012 -- Interview with David Vlahov: You just have to listen
August 2009 -- Boys don't nurse
August 2007 -- To inspire and be inspired
May 2007 -- Stigma
June 2006 -- Boy Division
May 2006 -- Girls and Boys
December 2005 -- Pink ghetto unfabulous
August 2005 -- Could shortage-driven migration change nursing's gender gap?
April 2005 -- Who should provide your intimate care?
February 2005 -- Girlie men? Manly girls? The Governator and nursing's gender issues
September 2004 -- Nursing that pesky Y chromosome
August 2004 -- One man and 247 women
May 2004 -- Chance the Good
August 2003 -- NPR: "Male candidates sought to offset nursing shortage"
April 2003 -- NY Times: Men seen as one answer to nursing shortage
Send us your thoughts or media depictions of men in nursing (or any other depiction to firstname.lastname@example.org)
For more information on opportunities in nursing, see:
The American Association for Men in Nursing--and please become a member of the organization, whether or not you are male. Men in nursing deserve our support.
"I Am Not a Male Nurse: Recruiting efforts may reinforce a stereotype" by Thomas Schwarz RN, American Journal of Nursing, February 2006, Volume 106 Number 2, p. 13.
last updated: September 18, 2019