1. Schoonover-Shoffner, Kathy

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IN NOVEMBER 2004 there were 2,338,530 Registered Nurses employed in the United States.1 In 2000 there was a nationwide shortage of 110,000 nurses, meaning the nation needed about six percent more nurses. This shortage is expected to slowly increase until 2010, when the nation will need 12 percent more nurses; then demand for nurses will begin to rapidly exceed supply. In 2020 a 29 percent shortage of RNs is predicted. Factors driving the shortage include an increasing population, a larger proportion of elderly persons, increases in medical technology and more nurses leaving than entering the profession due to an aging workforce.2


Recruitment strategies to meet the need for nurses include recruiting more men. But in 2004 only an estimated 5.9 percent or 137,973 of RNs were men.3 Of further concern is the fact that the small percentage of men in nursing has remained the same for decades.


Why aren't more men entering nursing?


Research with male nurses and students reveals a number of barriers against men in nursing. Nursing continues to be viewed as women's work, a profession supporting the stereotypical feminine traits of nurturing, caring and gentleness, in contrast to masculine characteristics of strength, aggression and dominance.4 Traditional representations in the media of nurses as angels, battle-axes, bimbos, sex symbols and doctors' handmaidens only perpetuate the feminine image of nursing. The U.S. Department of Labor in the Occupational Outlook Handbook describes the qualifications needed for nurses as, "Nurses should be caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail oriented,"5 traits often thought of as more maternal and feminine than masculine.


Furthermore, gender-biased presentations of nursing are common in all aspects of health care and the media. For example, women in nursing are viewed as simply "nurses," but men are typically qualified as "male nurses," suggesting men are different and not in keeping with societal norms.6 The consideration of nurses as junior docs-"almost physicians," who settled for nursing because they couldn't hack medical school doesn't help interest more men either.


Men inside the profession report workplace discrimination, saying certain job areas are not open to them. Female colleagues can sometimes perceive them as muscle,7 helpful to have around when something heavy, difficult or violent needs to be dealt with. Men nurses report needing to be careful about what they say (not appear chauvinistic), how they act (not appear chivalrous), and how they touch colleagues and patients (not sexual).8 Both male nurses and students express concerns about the feminization of nursing traditions, such as milestones in nursing education (pinning, capping, graduation ceremonies) or annual celebrations of Nurses' Week.9 Men also relay a tension between being expected to be assertive and assume leadership responsibilities and being viewed as "ladder-climbers."10 Sadly, men in nursing say they are sometimes viewed as effeminate and even homosexual by those outside the profession, especially other men.11


Other barriers for men include pay and issues associated with being a minority While entrance salaries for nurses are quite good,12 the potential for increased earnings tapers off over time and does not keep up with wage increases in other professions.13 Male nurses and students also report a sense of marginalization and discrimination that is common among minorities.14 Unfortunately, nursing schools have done a poor job in the past of recruiting and enfolding male students into the education experience.15


What can be done to overcome these barriers? The number one reason men are drawn toward nursing is the same reason women become nurses-to help people. This point can and should be acknowledged in recruiting men into nursing. Other top reasons men chose nursing are: the ability to make a meaningful contribution to society, upward career mobility, geographic mobility, financial security, good benefits, and flexible scheduling.16 Nursing has excellent and unique selling points that need to be emphasized to men (and women!!) making career choices-multiple career options, location flexibility job security and financial well-being. Through 2020, more new jobs will be created in nursing than in any other occupation in the U.S., and job opportunities are expected to be "very good."17 Stereotypes about nursing need to be confronted, especially with high school and college guidance counselors. It should be noted that certain clinical and administrative practice areas can be quite appealing to men because of the risks, stress and respect inherent in working in these venues.18 Schools of nursing also need to be more inclusive of men in their recruitment and socialization of students.

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For Christians, the work of nursing is a personal call from Jesus Christ to care for the sick (Mt 25:31-46) and injured (Lk 10:25-37), whether we are men or women. Regardless of our gender, we are created in Jesus Christ for good works, which God individually prepared for us to do (Eph 2:10). As God calls Christian men into nursing, they can be confident they are engaging in a most important work for the kingdom of God.




1US. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics Registered Nurses (SOC code 291111), November 2004. Accessed November 22,2005, at [Context Link]


2U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions, National Center For Health Workforce Analysis, "Projected Supply, Demand, and Shortages of Registered Nurses: 2000-2020." Released July 2002. Accessed November 22, 2005, at [Context Link]


3US. DHHS, Bureau of Health Professions, "The Registered Nurse Population: Findings from the 2000 National Sample Survey." Accessed November 22,2005, at [Context Link]


4Robert Meadus, "Men in Nursing: Barriers to Recruitment," Nursing Forum 35, no. 3 (July 1, 2000): 5-14. [Context Link]


5Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition, Registered Nurses. Accessed November 22, 2005 at [Context Link]


6Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition, Registered Nurses. Accessed November 22, 2005 at [Context Link]


7Karen Hart, "Breakthrough to Nursing Study: Who Are the Men in Nursing?" Imprint (Nov/Dec 2005): 32-34. [Context Link]


8Joan Evans, "Contradictions and Tensions: Exploring Relations of Masculinities in the Numerically Female-Dominated Nursing Profession," Journal of Men's Studies 11, no. 3 (March 22,2003): 277-93. [Context Link]


9Hart. [Context Link]


10Hart.; Teresa O'Connor, "Men in Nursing-What's Their Rightful Place?" Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand 9, no. 4 (May 1,2003): 29. [Context Link]


11Evans and Meadus. [Context Link]


12The average annual income of nurses in the U.S. in November 2004, was $55,680 according to the US. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. [Context Link]


13US. DHHS, "Projected Supply, Demand, and Shortages of Registered Nurses: 2000-2020." Released July 2002. Accessed November 22, 2005, at [Context Link]


14Evans. [Context Link]


15Evans and Meadus. [Context Link]


16Hart. [Context Link]


17Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition. [Context Link]


18Fiona Armstrong, "Not Just Women's Business: Men in Nursing," Australian Nursing Journal 9, no. 11 (June 1, 2002): 24-26. [Context Link]