Men in Nursing: Why This Career Isn’t Just For Women

Men in nursing are still a rare species these days. Recent surveys reveal that of the close to 3 million nurses in the United States, only about 6% or 168,000 are men. In 1980, only around 45,000 nurses were male, and in the year 2000, 147,000. But given the opportunities in registered nursing, it’s a small wonder that more men are now seriously considering a career as a nurse. As a matter of fact, 13% of all new nursing students are male.

As opposed to medicine and law which are considered to be male-dominated fields, nursing is a career where women rule. The general perception is that men are meant to be doctors, and women, nurses. That’s how the world works, right? Wrong.

History would tell us this wasn’t always the case. Throughout the Middle Ages and during the plagues that Europe experienced, men provided primary nursing care. The numbers of men in nursing at that time were further reinforced by men in the religious order, the most popular of which are the Order of Hospitallers (or the Knights Hospitallers), the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, the Order of the Holy Spirit, the Order of Saint Lazarus, and the Teutonic Knights.

It wasn’t until the 1930s, when more lucrative careers beckoned, that the number of male nurses dwindled pretty fast. At that time, only about 1% of nurses in the United States were men.

But times may be changing once again as the many opportunities in the nursing industry present themselves amidst a prolonged recession in the country. More people are discovering the advantages of an RN degree such as competitive pay, flexibility, bonuses, and varied work settings – and these people include both women and men.

One drawback for males who may want to be among the few men in nursing is the perception that being a nurse is a “woman’s work”. It’s easy to picture a nurse running after a physician as he barks orders to be carried out, and for most men, this is not a pretty picture. Good thing, it’s also a seriously outdated one.

These days, nurses are in the forefront of health care, assessing patients’ conditions and independently deciding on their care, utilizing the latest medical technologies, and working with, not for, the physicians, on the best treatment and care options. They can also rise to hold higher responsibilities and administrative positions.

Indeed, now is the perfect time for males to be counted in this fast growing industry. Men in nursing can enjoy a rewarding and profitable career, just as women have done in the past decades.

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