Men: A solution to the nursing shortage

Marysville, WA In his 25 years as a nurse, Graham McDougall, Jr., PhD, RN, remembers only one advertising campaign for nurses aimed at men. "I remember one of the posters … It was a young kid being examined by a male nurse and it said something like 'When I grow up I want to be a nurse just like my dad,'" Dr. McDougall said.

Frank Heasley, PhD, President and CEO, of, a leading web site that serves healthcare professionals and employers, agrees that gender based perceptions hinder acceptance of nursing as a worthy profession by men: "There are good reasons why experienced nurses are leaving their profession for other fields and nursing schools are having problems finding candidates." "In general, nurses themselves feel underappreciated, and underpaid in comparison with the employers they work for and the colleagues they work with." "As long as this situation persists, both men and women will shy away from nursing as a profession in favor of other fields which, in their view, command greater salaries and higher levels of esteem and satisfaction." "The fact that nursing is generally mis-perceived as particularly suitable for women is an obvious holdover form the days when women, and "women's work", were not held in as great esteem as work for "real men"."

Emphasize what's important

Getting more men into the field will mean appealing to boys, teens and college-aged men essentially, making men feel more at home with the thought of nursing.

"I suppose it's like medicine and law did a few decades ago in trying to get women to enter the field. For years, women weren't that welcomed into medicine and law. I don't think men are that welcomed into nursing," says Jim Raper, DSN, research assistant professor of medicine and an assistant clinical professor of nursing, University of Alabama, Birmingham.

This means, emphasizing what's important in marketing materials and ad campaigns, Dr. Raper says. "When you compare the salary of a nurse to a teacher, social worker, or dietician, we come out clearly on top of the scale, and I think a lot of men don't realize that."

Dr. McDougall, a gerontology nurse practitioner and associate professor nursing, University of Texas, Austin, School of Nursing, says that salary is most important. "Because if you don't give me what I think I'm worth and what comparably educated people are making then you don't respect me."

Another important job attribute is opportunity for upward mobility, according to Dr. McDougall, who is on the board of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing. Interestingly, the lack of upward mobility in nursing after about 10 years, Dr. Raper says, is probably one of the things that have kept men out of nursing for the long-term.

Desperate measures

Dolores Sands, dean, University of Texas at Austin, School of Nursing, was the first university dean to host an annual meeting of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing last year.

Tapping men is our only hope to increase enrollments in nursing programs, she says. "For too long we've ignored literally 50% of our human resources. It will probably take a massive marketing campaign to help males understand their value to society, especially in the caring profession. After all, medicine is a caring profession and it attracted men. Why can't nursing?" Dr. Sands said.

Dr. Sands says we might have to go so far as to change the name, nurse. Changing the title to something like health manager or healthcare manager will be a challenging task, she says, because the profession is dominated by women who don't necessarily want to give up that title. "For example, look how long it took to change the title of secretary [to administrative assistant]. Once that happened, more men were attracted to the role," she says. "I think men find the title [of nurse] a put off."

Nursing schools, she says, need to portray the few men they have and bring them to the forefront to help recruit other men. It's difficult to recruit out of high schools, Dr. Sands says. "The men who do come in thus far tend to be older; tend to be individuals who have had another career and have come to the conclusion that it's truly nursing that they want. They want to be true caregivers and leaders in the field. With their maturity, they're able to make that choice, without feeling that they're going to be ridiculed by families and society. Those are the ones who come forward. That's why they're so successful in nursing."

While men remain a small segment of the nursing population, the number of men in nursing is growing. According to the 2000 National Sample survey of Registered Nurses report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 1980, the number of men in the RN population was estimated at 45,060 or 2.7%. Two decades later, the number of men in nursing has grown by 226% to 146,902 and 5.4% of the nursing population.

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