When William Holzemer, RN, PhD, FAAN, was getting his nursing degree in 1985 from San Francisco State University, he was one of about three males in a class of about 100. Now, as the new dean of Rutgers College of Nursing in Newark, he sees men going into his undergraduate nursing program at more than four times that rate. But still nursing schools struggle to attract more men just as they seek to reduce racial and ethnic imbalances.
At Rutgers, the percentage of male undergraduate students is 14%, says Holzemer, much higher than the percentage of male nurses practicing. The number of male RNs in the U.S. has gone from 5.8% to 8% from 1989 to 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Holzemer attributes that mostly to a change in the face of nursing and says more men are going into nursing as a second career. He also said acceptance of the concept of male nurses is growing.
People are beginning to recognize that just as we need a better ethnic balance in nursing, we need a gender balance, as well, Holzemer says.
Comfort in NumbersMinerva S. Guttman, EdD, RN
In recent years he has seen rapid growth among men switching to nursing as a second career, men who may have gone into the Peace Corps or other service area, or sometimes they have been in the business world and decide they want more of a connection.
They are very different from the 18-year-olds who, he says, still have trouble envisioning a career in such a female-dominated profession. At age 25, he says, its a different story.
Minerva S. Guttman, RN, EdD, NP, has seen that trend at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J., where she is director and professor of the Henry P. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health. The male nursing student population is 12% for doctoral students, 7% for masters students and 11% for BSN students, she says. FDUs accelerated BSN program is attractive particularly to businessmen and others who already have bachelors degrees who are looking to change careers and foreign doctors who cannot practice in the U.S., Guttman says.
They can come to our program and get a BSN within a year, Guttman says. We also have an accelerated program for part-timers two years instead of one year.
She is looking to a new initiative The Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program to attract more men. FDU partners with the Department of Veterans Affairs to actively recruit Iraq War veterans on the GI Bill. The Becton School is working this year to recruit students for fall who have been medics or otherwise involved in healthcare in the war and have decided to become nurses. The program covers tuition and fees for the veterans.
Gerrie Colombraro, RN, PhD, is associate dean for administration at Lienhard School of Nursing at Pace University, which has locations in New York City and Westchester, where the percentage of male nurses in the undergraduate program is 9%. She says that although the school does not specifically recruit males, the atmosphere of inclusivity comes through in PowerPoint demonstrations to potential students.
When you look at the picture of what our group looks like, we have men and women from virtually every ethnic group you can imagine, ranging in age from the early 20s to the 50s, Colombraro says. I hear men say, anecdotally, I could be comfortable there. I wouldnt be the only man in the room.
The apprehension of being treated differently is valid, Holzemer says. Theres no question in my own personal experience that male nurses are often treated differently as any subset of people might be. And sometimes its the reverse of what you might think, he says. They may be given more responsibility because they are thought to be more competent when they may not be. … They may assume more easily a leadership role, when in fact it may not be as justified. On the other hand, I think its not uncommon that some male nurses have trouble with older, more traditional nurses who think they dont belong in the field.
Those in leadership at nursing schools said there is no difference in the way female and male nurses are trained. Though some patients may be more comfortable with a female nurse in some specialties, such as obstetrics and gynecology, all nurses must learn the same skills, they say. Some foreign-trained male nursing students who are transferring into a U.S. program may have been barred from taking some courses in their home country such as maternal child nursing and then they must take those courses when they get to the U.S.
Gender BiasWilliam Holzemer, RN
Colombraro said some of the stereotypes that men are worse at communication and women are worse at math dont hold up in her experience. She says she doesnt see a more favorable response to male as opposed to female graduates when they enter the workforce.
There are some men who do really, really well with communication skills, and you would typically think of that as a female-type skill, Colombraro says. By the same token, in our program, women and men have to be equally skilled in math. When youre dealing with medications that will save a patients life or kill them, everybody has to be strong in math.
Holzemer says the gender disparities in nurse leadership are not that different from those in other professions. Its just the fundamental gender difference between career and family focus, he says. Male nurses are often more interested in moving up the career ladder. Its not that women arent, its just traditional gender bias. So you do often get male nurses overrepresented in leadership roles as head nurses, chief nurses, but its partially a commitment to the profession and their own advancement. … I dont think its any different than men and women lawyers.