Male Nursing Shortage

Where Are All the Male Nurses?


MedPage TodayPublished June 1, 2024
By Jason Dunne DNP, MBA, MN RN

Nurses are critical to a functioning healthcare system, yet our country is currently facing a nursing shortage that is projected to intensify in the next few years. The shortage is not just a statistic for me; it is a reality I see every day in my work. After serving as a bedside nurse for several years, I realized that nursing education — being able to expand minds and teach others — was where I could make the biggest impact. In my current role, I am acutely aware of the challenges facing the nursing profession and the urgent need to expand the workforce as our population ages and the need for nursing care only grows.

Gender Stereotypes May Be Exacerbating the Nursing Shortage

The shortage can’t and won’t be solved by one single thing, yet I see a clear opportunity to fill one huge gap that looms large: more male nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 193,100 nursing job openings per year until 2032, yet only 177,400 new nurses are expected to enter the workforce over that entire period — indicating a potential shortage of over a million nurses in the coming decade. Meanwhile, as of 2022, only 12% of the 3.1 million nurses in the U.S. were men — that’s around 372,000 nurses. In other words, achieving gender parity in nursing could address the shortage multiple times over.

I don’t expect this level of change to happen overnight, or even in a decade, but it demonstrates how a profound lack of gender diversity is holding back the nursing workforce at a time when we need more support than ever before. There are a number of strategies we can use to alleviate the nursing shortage, but the numbers are clear: men, and greater diversity in nursing, can be a significant part of any lasting solution.

So, why aren’t more men interested in nursing? On its face, nursing is a great career: fulfilling work, good pay, and in demand everywhere. We should not have a problem attracting new nurses. Yet, nursing, like many other professions, has become a gendered job. Whether intentional or not, people associate careers like nursing with women. As the nursing profession has traditionally been a female-dominated field, stereotypes and misconceptions have spread.

This is a stereotype worth challenging. Nursing is built on the fundamental values of caring, diligence, teamwork, service, and leadership — all qualities that transcend gender. Without diversifying the nursing field, we miss out on caring and compassionate male nurses, fantastic team players and collaborators, and men who are deeply committed to patients’ needs.

We miss out on the well-documented benefits of diversity to patient care. And we miss out on thousands of hard-working male nurses who can fill critical shortages. Ultimately, patients will benefit most from hospitals, medical offices, nursing homes, and other medical facilities being fully staffed with skilled nurses. Men need to be part of closing that gap.

By shifting perceptions and actively working to attract more men to nursing, we can create a more balanced and inclusive profession. We need to consider how to encourage men to pursue nursing as a career, and once they join the profession, how we can ensure they feel supported and valued. This requires a concerted effort to break down stereotypes and create a welcoming environment for all nurses, regardless of gender. This goes not just for men, but for individuals of all underrepresented backgrounds in our profession.

Research confirms that diversity in medicine improves patient outcomes. It is important to have a healthcare workforce that represents all races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations. Patients do better when they are treated by people who can understand them, who can relate to them, and who look like them. As nurse educators and other types of healthcare professionals, we need to create opportunities for individuals from these backgrounds to become nurses so that our patients can feel seen, heard, and cared for.

Nursing schools should champion a diverse student body and prepare graduates to meet the healthcare needs of a rapidly changing world. “Student success” must mean more than just graduating and passing your licensure exam. Expanding opportunity within nursing for everyone requires embracing new educational models to support a diverse student body that may balance school with full-time work, supporting a family, or both.

Nurses treat everyone. Nurses can be anyone. And we need more nurses now than ever. Nurse educators and clinicians have a shared responsibility to combat stereotypes, embrace diversity, and strive toward a nursing workforce that reflects the patients we serve. As our healthcare system adapts to future challenges, what patients need most is an abundance of diverse, skilled professionals who can provide the high-quality care they need.

Janon Dunne Jason Dunne DNP, MBA, MN, RN, is Chief Academic Officer at the Arizona College of Nursing. Dunne is an experienced educator with over 20 years of previous nursing experience across the industry and several years as a bedside nurse.