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The Journey to Becoming a Male Nurse: Education and Career Pathways

Male nurse smiling at the camera

While traditionally viewed as a female-dominated field, nursing is changing. More men are entering the profession -- which boasts numerous specialty fields and opportunities for career advancement -- and making significant contributions.  

According to the American Nurses Association, only men were allowed to serve in the military during the Civil War. The war created a shortage of male nurses, which was filled by well-trained women. The numbers of men in nursing continued to dip throughout history and by the 1970s, only 2.7% of nurses were male.  

Today, about 12% of all nurses are men. The journey to becoming a male nurse includes a wide variety of educational and career pathways, along with several common nursing specialties and roles that are a good fit for men in nursing.  

Education pathways  

The road to being a professional nurse begins with obtaining the necessary education and licensure. There are several educational pathways for men to enter the nursing profession, each offering unique advantages. The options include:  

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN): LPN/LVN programs usually take about one year to complete and are offered by community colleges and vocational schools. This pathway provides basic nursing education and training, allowing graduates to perform essential nursing duties under the supervision of RNs and physicians. LPNs/LVNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to obtain licensure. The LVN title is only used in two states – California and Texas

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): ADN programs typically take two years to complete and are offered by community colleges. This pathway provides a more in-depth education in nursing, including both theoretical and clinical training. ADN grads are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed RNs. 

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): The BSN program usually takes four years to finish and is offered by universities and colleges. This pathway provides comprehensive nursing education, including coursework in leadership, research, and public health, along with clinical training. BSN graduates are also eligible to take the NCLEX-RN. The BSN degree is increasingly becoming the preferred qualification for many employers and is a prerequisite for advanced nursing roles and graduate education. 

Accelerated BSN Programs (ABSN): For men who already have a bachelor's degree in another field, an accelerated BSN program offers a fast-track option to become a male nurse. These programs take 12-18 months to complete, and they provide intensive nursing education and clinical training. 

Direct-Entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): For those with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, direct-entry MSN programs provide a pathway to become an RN and obtain a master’s degree in nursing. These programs take three years to finish and prepare grads for advanced practice nursing roles or leadership positions. 

Common nursing specialties for men 

Men are represented in various nursing specialties, with some fields attracting more men because their nature and demands. Here are some of the most common nursing specialties among male nurses: 

Emergency nursing: Emergency nurses work in fast-paced environments, such as emergency departments and trauma centers, providing critical care to patients with acute injuries and illnesses. The high-intensity and hands-on nature of emergency nursing appeal to many male nurses. 

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nursing: ICU nurses care for critically ill patients who require intensive monitoring and complex interventions. This specialty demands strong clinical skills and the ability to handle high-stress situations, making it a popular choice for male nurses. 

Anesthesia nursing: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia and provide anesthesia-related care during surgical procedures. For a male nurse, this advanced practice role offers high levels of autonomy and responsibility, attracting those seeking a challenging and well-compensated specialty. 

Flight nursing: Flight nurses provide critical care to patients during air medical transport. This role requires advanced clinical skills and the ability to perform under pressure in unique environments, making it an appealing option for adventurous male nurses. 

Psychiatric nursing: Psychiatric nurses work with patients experiencing mental health issues, providing therapeutic care and support. This specialty requires strong communication skills and the ability to build rapport with patients, attracting male nurses interested in mental health. 

Other suitable roles  

Beyond the commonly chosen specialties, a male nurse can find several other roles in which to excel: 

Nurse educator: Educators teach and train nursing students and practicing nurses, often working in academic or clinical settings. This role requires strong communication and leadership skills, making it a good fit for male nurses who are passionate about mentoring and education. 

Nurse administrator: Male nurses in this role manage nursing staff and oversee the operations of healthcare facilities. The job involves strategic planning, policy development, and staff management, making it ideal for men with strong leadership and organizational skills. 

Nurse researcher: Conducting studies to advance nursing practice and improve patient outcomes is at the core of nursing research jobs. This role requires analytical skills and a commitment to evidence-based practice, making it suitable for male nurses interested in the scientific aspects of healthcare. 

Nurse informaticist: Informatics integrates nursing science with information technology to improve healthcare delivery and patient care. To be in this role requires technical proficiency and a strong understanding of clinical workflows, appealing to male nurses with an interest in technology. 

Nurse entrepreneur: For male nurses who want to carve their own path, they can start and manage their own healthcare businesses, such as clinics, consulting firms, or home healthcare services. This role demands business acumen, creativity, and a willingness to take risks, making it a good fit for male nurses with an entrepreneurial spirit. 

Statistics on men in nursing 

The number of male nurses in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, reflecting broader changes in societal attitudes towards gender roles in the workplace.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2022, approximately 12% of RNs in the U.S. are male. This represents a significant increase from previous decades when the proportion of male nurses was much lower. 

What specialties include the highest number of male nurses? Here are the leaders:  

Emergency nursing: Approximately 20% of emergency nurses are male, according to BLS data, making it one of the specialties with the highest representation of male nurses. 

ICU nursing: Around 17% of ICU nurses are male, reflecting the appeal of this high-stakes environment. 

Anesthesia nursing: Male nurses make up about 41% of CRNAs, demonstrating a strong presence in this advanced practice role. 

Flight nursing: Male representation in flight nursing is approximately 25%, highlighting the appeal of this dynamic and challenging specialty. 

Psychiatric Nursing: About 16% of psychiatric nurses are male, indicating a significant interest in mental health care among male nurses. 

Overcoming barriers and challenges 

Despite the male nurse becoming a growing part of the profession, there are still challenges and barriers that men may face. Stereotypes and misconceptions about nursing being a "female" profession can discourage men from pursuing a nursing career. Additionally, male nurses may experience bias or discrimination in the workplace. 

To overcome these challenges, it is essential to promote a more inclusive and supportive environment for male nurses.  

This can be achieved through education and awareness programs that highlight the contributions of male nurses and encourage diversity in the nursing workforce. Mentorship programs and professional networks for male nurses can also provide valuable support and resources for career development. 

For a male nurse, the career path involves navigating various educational pathways, choosing a specialty, and overcoming societal barriers. With the increasing demand for skilled nurses and the growing recognition of the value that men in nursing bring to the profession, opportunities are expanding. 

By pursuing education and training, male nurses can enter a rewarding and dynamic profession that offers numerous career paths and specialties. From emergency and ICU nursing to advanced practice roles like CRNAs, male nurses are making big contributions to patient care and healthcare delivery.