TRACKING TRENDS: Number of Male Nurses Showing Slow, Steady Rise
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tom Marquart hears the teasing, but it hasn’t deterred him from pursuing a nursing degree.
Marquart, a senior at Belmont University, dabbled in history, education and construction before finding what he was meant to do in the nursing program.
“Once I started, I knew immediately,” he said.
And, he’s not alone, either in Tennessee or nationally. As of 2011, 9.6 percent of all registered nurses in the U.S. were male, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau. That percentage has tripled in three decades, from 2.7 percent in 1970.
Vanderbilt University professor of nursing Peter Buerhaus said the social stigmas associated with men in nursing are disappearing. Buerhaus thinks the economic benefits are attracting more males to the field.
“We saw the nation lose thousands of jobs during the recession, but health care grew in the number of jobs it produced, and nursing played a huge part,” Buerhaus said. “People notice that when they come out of high school, there’s no longer a negative stigma.”
Buerhaus said he thinks men choose nursing instead of other careers in medicine for some of the same reasons women do. For one thing, he said, it often means more direct involvement with patients, the community and families, and more emphasis on prevention.
A doctor’s care, Buerhaus said, is more focused on the pathology and specific treatment of a patient. He said both occupations are critical to successful health care.
For Ryan McFarland, nursing is “a manly job,” a description he is happy to explain.
McFarland is a registered nurse at Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin, where he has worked since graduation.
“I guess my friends thought, since I played sports in high school, that I would take on a more manly job,” McFarland said. “But this is a manly job. There are so many things in this field that aren’t easy — most people don’t have the stomach for it.”
The U.S. Census Bureau report identifies some of the stereotypes associated with nursing and some of the reasons men have not rushed into the field.
Originally, nursing often emerged as a military or religious role, and the field was often filled by men. A shift started during the Civil War, when men were engaged in other pursuits and women stepped into those positions.
By the 1900s, nursing schools were admitting only women, and the Army and Navy Nurse Corps were limited to women. Men were not allowed to serve in nursing positions in those organizations until after the Korean War.
Although McFarland thinks the stigma against men in nursing is disappearing, he said there are still people who see it as a women’s profession.
Taylor Fife, president of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing at Vanderbilt and currently a nurse practitioner, sees it every day.
“Not many days go by that I’m not mistaken for being a doctor,” he said. “Even when I tell them I’m not, the stereotype of men as doctors and women as nurses is still there.”
McFarland said several of his former patients doubted his ability to care for them. That only changes after they have a positive experience, he said.
He thinks a change in the way male nurses are viewed could potentially change health care.
“We had courses in school where women tended to view certain situations in a different light than men,” McFarland said.
“If you have two varying perspectives, you may get better solutions.”