When Thomas Falletta, MS, RN, ANP-BC was awaiting the birth of his daughter, he had an epiphany. And it wasn’t about his growing family. It was about his career.
As he watched nurses and doctors move purposefully through the hospital, the high-school teacher felt like he could and should be doing something different with his life. “It was kind of like a you-missed-your-calling type of thing,” Falletta recalls.
Falletta’s mother was a nurse, and he says that was the one profession he’d always disavowed as a result. He knew firsthand what a tough job it was. But after growing up and having his daughter, suddenly, it didn’t look so bad. To Falletta, it offered more flexibility with regard to both career pathways and his day-to-day schedule than, say, being a doctor did.
Once he enrolled in nursing school, his instincts were validated. “I had that moment in the middle of nursing school when I realized I was indeed in the right place,” Falletta says. Today, he works as the clinical coordinator for the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program at University of Phoenix (UOPX).
Falletta is not alone in his calling, but his is an admittedly exclusive group: Just 12% of nurses are men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But that number has climbed over the years. The US Census Bureau reported that approximately 2.7% of RNs were men in 1970, which has increased to roughly 12% in 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So, what is it about nursing that’s attractive to men? And why is that a good thing? Here, we explore the history and future of men in nursing.
Ready for the challenge? Maybe it's time to pursue an RN to BSN degree.
The male nurse is not a new concept. As noted by the United States Census Bureau, “Men had significant representation nursing until the 1800s because of the early association between nursing and the military and religious orders.”
The Civil War shifted labor demographics in nursing professions from mostly male-dominated to more female. With the outbreak of war, women stepped in to “fill the gap,” and by the early 1900s, women essentially dominated the industry. In fact, men were not allowed to serve in the nursing profession in certain groups like the Army Nurse Corps until after the Korean War.
Male nurse statistics
Generally speaking, men in the nursing field followed the stereotype, with numbers declining until the 1970s when recruiting and occupational retraining efforts were redoubled to avoid a predicted labor shortage in nursing jobs.
Today, the numbers tell an optimistic story about men in nursing with the number of male nurses steadily on the rise, especially in high-paying roles.
What is it like to be a male nurse?
For Randall Hamilton, DNP, FNP-BC, the growing interest in nursing among men is not surprising. Hamilton serves as the academic director of UOPX’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, and he’s been in the field since he started out as a nursing assistant in 1977. The impact nurses had on people’s lives resonated with Hamilton, and so did another interesting aspect of nursing.
“I recall [seeing], even at that early age of 19 or 20, the respect [nurses] had from patients and physicians, and I remember that being a goal early on when thinking about my career path.”
Like Falletta, Hamilton has a lot of familial experience with nursing. His wife, mother-in-law and daughters are all nurses.
Unlike Falletta, Hamilton has experienced some of the stigma that comes along with being a male nurse.
“Back then, it was unusual for a male to become a nurse,” Hamilton recalls. “People would ask, ‘Why didn’t you become a doctor? Did you fail at becoming a doctor and then went into nursing?’”
This line of questioning has diminished over the years, Hamilton acknowledges, and overall, his clinical experiences have been positive. Yes, he says male nurses tend to get assignments that require heavy lifting and sometimes even combative patients, but he’s, “never looked on that as a negative. It was just the strategy, more or less, to care for patients.”
Beyond strategic differences in care, Hamilton points out that there are some distinct advantages to being a male nurse, too.
6 reasons why nursing is great for men
1. Steady job market. “I’ve never had the up-and-down job market,” Hamilton says. And that isn’t changing anytime soon. Job growth in nursing is projected to continue at a rate of 9% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.
2. A variety of career paths. Whether you’re easily bored or a lifelong learner or looking for a career, nursing fits the bill. “It’s really amazing the variety of roles you can end up exploring,” says Falletta who has worked as a bedside nurse, charge nurse, nurse practitioner and educator.
3. Flexibility. For men looking to balance other interests or even childcare with work, nursing offers a tantalizing level of flexibility. As nurses, for example, Hamilton and his wife were able to schedule their shifts around each other so that one of them could be home when their children were young.
4. Male nurses stand out for all the right reasons. “Because there are so few males, people get to know you a lot better,” Hamilton says.
5. Men make nursing more accessible. Patients sometimes prefer nurses of one gender or another, which means male nurses answer an important demand from the patient population.
6. Nursing is a rewarding field. Male or female, nurses get perhaps one of the biggest payoffs out there: being able to heal other human beings.
Misconceptions about male nurses
While nursing offers some compelling advantages for men, it doesn’t come without a few challenges. Chief among these are the misconceptions male nurses still have to dispel.
On the most basic level, men have been stereotyped as lacking the caregiving traits like compassion and empathy necessary for nursing. (Male nurses past and present put the lie to this notion.) Or that they chose nursing only because they couldn’t hack it in medical school.
“We are not doctor wannabes,” Hamilton says. “Every male nurse I know went into nursing because he wanted to be a nurse.”
Falletta takes this one step further, saying RNs have access to more knowledge and skills than ever before. This potential speaks to Falletta’s own passion for research and education, but it applies to the industry as a whole and can be especially attractive to lifelong learners.
“We’re doing more than we ever did,” Falletta says. “We’re stronger than we have ever been.”
That said, male nurses do face some limitations in the workplace. It might be necessary to explain yourself in certain situations, like Hamilton did when he was working as a nurse practitioner at a surgical practice. On more than one occasion, he said, he had to clarify that it was he who was the nurse practitioner and his female colleague was the doctor.
Then, of course, there are certain protocols that male nurses have to follow around female patients. Routine procedures like checking incisions or bathing female patients often require the presence of a chaperone, Hamilton says. And female patients may prefer or tend to be more comfortable with female nurses in the field of obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) (although it is technically open to anyone).
To the latter issue, Falletta offers one possible solution: Male OB/GYN nurses could start their own practice with other like-minded professionals in the industry, which would attract a like-minded patient population.
Like any salary range, that of nursing is subject to experience and geography. (And there are online tools to help address the vicissitudes presented by geography.)
But there are other caveats to consider as well, such as career paths and opportunities for advancement.
Education can also impact salary. Some people complete training to become registered nurses; others pursue their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees. (Curious about the what the difference is between an RN and BSN? An RN is a medical professional who is licensed to work as a nurse while a BSN refers to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.)
The salary ranges are reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and are not specific to University of Phoenix graduates. Further, these national averages may include earners at all stages of their career and may not accurately reflect entry-level wages or variations by region. Your earning outcome may vary. University of Phoenix does not guarantee salary level.
Career paths for registered nurses
Not all nurse careers are created equal — and that’s a good thing. If you find one role isn’t suited to your interests, or if you’re a lifelong learner like Falletta, or if you prefer to follow your interests as they evolve, nursing can accommodate you.
Hamilton puts it more simply: “Nursing has so many paths.”
Falletta and Hamilton both exemplify this truth. As previously noted, Falletta’s career trajectory has included roles as a beside nurse, charge nurse, nurse practitioner and educator. He has also worked in research.
Hamilton has enjoyed an equally diverse career over the years, having worked in cardiac intensive care and bariatric medicine as well as at an interventional pain practice.
Yet these just scratch the surface of what’s available. Nurses can work in the military, the ER and telehealth, for example. They can pursue a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner. They can work closely with patients or, as Hamilton says, in the OR and “never see a waking patient.”
Other nursing paths include the following:
As the first face patients see in a clinic, clinic nurses shepherd patients through the process, collecting information, administering medication and providing information.
These nurses work with physicians and other personnel to provide treatment and care to hospitalized patients.
Pediatric nurses care for children, from infancy through their late teens, and must pair nursing skills with the ability to care for children’s unique needs and temperaments as well as those of their families.
These nurses work with newborns who have a range of health concerns such as prematurity, birth defects and infections.
Intensive care nurse
Also known as critical care nurses, ICU nurses attend to patients with life-threatening illnesses and conditions.
These nurses specialize in treating patients who require urgent treatment, whether for trauma, injury or other serious medical conditions.
Why now is the time to be a male nurse
If the previous 50 years are anything to go by, nursing could continue to attract more and more men in the coming years. And this, pretty much everyone agrees, is a good thing.
Falletta emphasizes, for example, the importance of recruiting more men in nursing education. Having strong male figures in education will attract other males to the field, he argues.
In the field, having more male nurses creates a mutually beneficial situation. Nursing itself will gain a more equitable balance between genders while men can tap into the flexibility and earning potential nursing affords.
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Elizabeth Exline has been telling stories ever since she won a writing contest in third grade. She's covered design and architecture, travel, lifestyle content and a host of other topics for national, regional, local and brand publications. Additionally, she's worked in content development for Marriott International and manuscript development for a variety of authors.