Men represent less than 10% of the nursing workforce. The number of men in nursing programs is slightly greater, but there is still much work to be done when it comes to creating a diverse nursing workforce.
When Dale Beatty, BSN, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, went to nursing school in the 1980s, he was the only man in his school's nursing program. And, because of social stigmas attached to being a man in the nursing profession at that time, he withheld the fact that he was enrolled in nursing school from his father.
"I'm not proud of it, but for the first six months I was in the College of Nursing, I never shared it with my father," he said. "I love my father dearly, but he said, 'Don't go into that profession. You will never have a good income, and you will never have a good life.'"
But following his heart rather than his father's advice turned out to be the right decision for Beatty, now CNO at University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago. "I've got a fabulous life, I've worked with great people, and I've got a terrific career," he says of his 30 years in the nursing profession.
Beatty shared his story this month at a Men in Healthcare panel discussion during Resurrection University's Thinking Out Loud speaker series. Seven other men with careers in nursing, radiography, and health information management joined Beatty at the university's Chicago campus to share their experiences working in healthcare.
Breaking Down Stereotypes
Various surveys report men account for about 7%–9% of the nursing workforce, and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing states that in 11% of students enrolled in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2013 were men. At 17%, Resurrection University's College of Nursing boasts a higher than average enrollment of men.
Though the Resurrection panelists are a part of the growing number of men in the profession, the majority of the five nurses said they had not initially considered nursing as a career option. "I couldn't visualize it for myself because I was constrained by social biases," says Beatty, whose mother and sister are also nurses.
To help break down the stereotype of nursing as a career exclusively for women, Beatty suggests consciously changing the words we use when we talk about the profession. "Even today, I hear us using the language 'male nurses,'" he says. "When I hear it within my own healthcare setting I stop people and say, 'Do we define attorneys that way? Do we say she's a female attorney? We don't.'"
Labeling nurses according to gender needs to stop if we hope to foster inclusivity within the profession.
"Sometimes we unintentionally, through lack of education and lack of good words, turn people away," Beatty says. "If we want to attract more men into healthcare, we have to use language that makes it interesting and inviting for men to participate in it."
Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.