The nursing profession continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing demands of healthcare. In recent years, DEI efforts have become a standard practice in healthcare staffing; however, males continue to be an underrepresented group within the nursing profession. Increasing the number of male nurses could have a significant impact on the healthcare industry.
As of 2022, the U.S. has approximately 4.2 million registered nurses. While that is a staggering figure, male nurses represent only about 9% of the nurse workforce, which is roughly 330,000 out of 4.2 million. Culturally, nursing has largely been considered a women’s field.
Primetime television dramas continue to promote the narrative that the nursing profession is exclusive to women. As healthcare organizations prioritize DEI, it is crucial that male RNs are being recognized, accepted, and valued. Let’s explore potential benefits if healthcare organizations increase their numbers of male nurses.
Combat the national nursing shortage
The U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented nursing shortage, which is predicted to last until 2030. COVID-19 presented immense challenges for healthcare workers, leading many to leave the profession altogether. A focus on encouraging male RNs to enter the profession could aid in combating the national nursing shortage.
Vince Baiera, BSN, Principal at Relias, emphasized the importance of increasing the number of male RNs. “Healthcare needs more men working in the nursing profession, period. For a healthcare system that is substantially short of personnel, with the profession being comprised of roughly 90% women, we’re essentially missing out on half of the population (men) that could help make a difference for all Americans,” he said. “We’re in the midst of a shortage in our country that will have a ripple effect for years to come and unfortunately will price out many Americans from receiving the care that they need and deserve.”
Not only will increasing the number of male RNs promote equity and inclusion, it could also benefit patients immensely. With an increase in male RNs, nurse-to-patient ratios will likely change for the better. Studies have shown that nurse-to-patient ratios impact patient outcomes, including in-hospital mortality. When nurses have more time to spend with patients, fewer adverse events occur.
Increased DEI and patient representation in caregivers
A focus on DEI can impact every facet of a healthcare organization, potentially improving staffing outcomes, and perhaps most importantly, patient care outcomes. As of 2021, the number of males in the U.S. is approximately 164 million, which is nearly half of the population. This is a vast difference in the number of male RNs — 330,000 — that are available to provide them care.
The lack of male nurses can inadvertently lead to patients not only being underrepresented but misunderstood as well. Male RNs provide insight to the male experience to help better understand how best to care for male patients.
Ray Goodwin, BSN, RN, is a neuro ICU staff nurse in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and he shared why it is crucial for patients to have male nurses.
“Having men come into a female dominated role has changed the way care is administered and how nurses are able to advocate for their patients,” Goodwin said.
“It used to be very easy for a [male] doctor to ignore a [female] nurse because the gender role barriers in America were so permanent,” he said. By having the male perspective better represented in the nursing field, more patients can be understood and advocated for.
Shifting the culture: breaking nursing stigmas
The healthcare field has historically been a fairly accurate reflection of the cultural bias present in society. Men have been encouraged to pursue roles as surgeons, nurse anesthetists, and other higher-profile roles in healthcare, whereas women have been encouraged to go into nursing.
This furthers the cultural narrative that women are conditioned to assist men, not challenge them. As awareness of this issue rises, it is essential that the medical field reflect this cultural shift.
Baiera weighed in on this issue. “It starts with eliminating any remaining stigma that may surround the profession that says it’s just for women and it’s not a ‘manly’ job. After starting my career at the Cleveland Clinic in their cardiothoracic ICU, I can assure you, it will challenge your critical thinking ability and endurance to the highest degree, no matter what sex you identify as,” he said.
“By educating more men about the profession, we can attract people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and create a more diverse healthcare workforce,” Baiera said.
“This adds value to the patient because they will feel they can relate more to the caregivers and feel that their best interest is at center of their care.”
For systematic change to occur, it must not only be reflected in direct healthcare settings but also in education. Educators will need to advocate for male RNs to achieve equality in the field of nursing.
Increasing male nurses matters
Encouraging more male RNs to join the profession could not only combat the nursing shortage, but also improve DEI efforts, break the gender stigma, and — above all else — improve the quality of care and lives of patients. At some point, everyone will be a patient, and it is crucial to have a caregiver who understands. By promoting more male representation in nursing, the culture can change for the better.
As our nation’s population continues to diversify, increasing the diversity of the nursing workforce can help nurses better serve patient needs and advance health equity. To learn more about the current levels of diversity in nursing, review the findings in our Nurse Salary Research Report.