Men in nursing

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A male U.S. Navy nurse attends to a child.

Nurses are traditionally and predominantly female; of the 2.1 million registered nurses in the United States, for example, only 9.6% are male nurses. Men also make up only 13% of all new nursing students.[1]

A number of possible reasons exist for why nursing is largely a female profession and why relatively few men seek to enter it.[2] Among these reasons is the very basic fact that "nursing" literally means giving a breast to a baby for it to suckle milk from. In human physiology and culture, only women have breasts and therefore only woman can "nurse" a child, hence the word "nursing" is deeply attached to the archetype of motherhood and the office of maternity.

Historical perspective[edit]

During plagues that swept through Europe, male nurses were primary caregivers. In the 3rd century, men in the Parabolani created a hospital and provided nursing care.[3] It has been asserted, without proof, that the brotherhood was first organized during the great plague in Alexandrian episcopate of Dionysius the Great (second half of 3rd century). They received their name from the fact that they risked their lives (paraballesthai ten zoen) in exposing themselves to contagious diseases. In addition, they constituted a bodyguard for the bishop. Their number was never large. The Codex Theodosianus of 416 (xvi, 2, 42) restricted the enrollment in Alexandria to 500.[4]

There were numerous other nurses that were male throughout the Middle Ages. St. Benedict started the Benedictine nursing order. The Alexian Brothers, in the 14th century, provided nursing care for the victims of the Black Death. These two organizations are still in existence today.

Military, religious, and lay orders of men continued to provide nursing care throughout the Middle Ages. Some of the most famous of these were the Knights Hospitalers, the Teutonic Knights, the Tertiaries, the Order of Saint Lazarus, the Order of the Holy Spirit, and the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony.

St. John of God and St. Camillus de Lellis were both nurses who are now considered saints. St Camillus invented the symbol of the red cross and created the first ambulance service.

In 1783 James Derham, a slave from New Orleans, earned his freedom by working as a nurse. He went on to become the first black doctor in the United States.[5]

Walt Whitman (1819–1892), a poet and a writer, volunteered as a hospital nurse in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War.

Nursing schools for men were common in the United States until the early 1900, more than half of those offering paid nursing services to the ill and injured were men. Yet by 1930, men constituted fewer than 1% of RNs in the United States."[6] As they found other, more lucrative occupations, they left nursing behind.[7]

In the past, men usually became nurses involuntarily "on to spot" in the midst of war, often religious wars, in an effort to save their fellow soldiers' lives. War was not the realm of women. This was the case until Florence Nightingale was allowed on the battlefield to minister to soldiers.

The American Assembly For Men in Nursing was founded in 1971. The purpose of AAMN is to provide a framework for nurses as a group to meet, discuss, and influence factors which affect men as nurses.[8]

In Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718 (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Mississippi University for Women's single sex admissions policy for its nursing school violated the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the landmark opinion.

In the 1980-1990’s, "inflation, a shortage of nurses with the accompanying rise in nurses’ wage, as well as a change in gender attitude, brought many men into the profession." [9]

Increasing numbers[edit]

More men are joining women by entering the nursing profession. "Study after study demonstrates that men come to the nursing profession for the same reasons women do. They want to care for sick and injured people, they want a challenging profession, and they want reasonable job security with good wages".[6]

As many Western nations are facing a shortage of nurses, many governments and nursing schools are actively recruiting more men as nurses. In example, when the University of Pittsburgh increased its admission requirements for its nursing program, the number of male applicants spiked significantly.[10]

Spokesman Thomas Holly stated on behalf of all male nurses in University of Limerick that they are currently celebrated in all hospitals throughout the Mid-West of Ireland and female nurses continually look forward to seeing male nurses arrive on wards.[citation needed]

Men are commonly seen working in the US Armed Forces and in VA medical facilities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chung, Vicki. "Men in Nursing",
  2. ^
  3. ^ Menstuff. "Men and Nursing ", MenStuff
  4. ^ Parabolani: from Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.
  5. ^ 2003 Aetna Inc. "History of African American Nurses", 2003 Aetna Inc
  6. ^ a b Where are the men? Nursing, Jul 2003 (available at
  7. ^ "Previous research on the devaluation of women's work has investigated whether the net effect of gender composition varies across jobs and organizational settings. We show that gender devaluation will be strongest in highly gender-segregated labor markets. One reason for this may be that in segregated markets, men are in a stronger position to benefit from devaluation while women are less able to resist it. The results strongly support this hypothesis: Higher levels of occupational segregation at the labor market level are associated with a significantly increased tendency to devalue women's work roles. This finding is not explained by a diverse set of controls at both the establishment and local labor market level." Occupational Segregation and the Devaluation of Women's Work across U.S. Labor Markets, Cohen, Philip N.,Huffman, Matt L.,; Social Forces - Volume 81, Number 3, March 2003, pp. 881-908, The University of North Carolina Press.
  8. ^ American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN),
  9. ^ A History Lesson on the Male Nurse
  10. ^ Williams, Debra. "Recruiting Men into Nursing School ",

External links[edit]