The last time you entered a hospital or other health care facility, were you surprised by how many male nurses you saw? Did you wonder if there were more male nurses than usual? If so, you were entirely correct. New data from the US Census Bureau shows that the amount of men in nursing has more than tripled among registered nurses (RNs) and doubled among practical and vocational nurses (LVNs) in the last 40 years.
As of 2011, male nurses constitute 9.6% RNs and 8.1% of LVNs. In 1970, these numbers were far lower — only 2.7% and 3.9%, respectively. Why the change? The truth is that nursing was originally a male-oriented profession. Throughout history, men in nursing have been the norm, not women.
- During the Black Plague epidemic in 300 AD, it was a group of men known as the Parabolani who founded a hospital and provided nursing care for those who had become ill.
- In the early 1600s, the Italian priest Camillus de Lellis (who was later given a sainthood) was the nurse who founded the original red cross organization.
- As recently as the Civil War, well known male nurses have existed. Even the famous American poet and writer Walt Whitman volunteered as a hospital nurse in the early 1860s. However, due to a shortage of men in nursing because of the war, women began to enter the field of nursing as well.
Men were the primary leaders in the nursing field until the late 1800s. At this time, nursing schools for women began to pop up all over America. At first, women in nursing focused on care for women and children, and by the turn of the century, female nursing organizations had entirely excluded men from nursing in the military. It was not until the 1930s that men were allowed into the American Nurses Association and until the 1950s that men were given the option to again serve as nurses in the military. Since that time, men have been gradually reentering the nursing profession.
Even though men in nursing are still the vast minority in their field at a total of less than 10%, men dominate certain high-paying nursing specialties. For example, there are over 40% of men in nurse anesthesiology. It is also notable that male nurses tend to consistently earn more than female nurses:
- Male nurses earned an average of $60,700 per year compared to $51,100 per year for women.
- Women working full‐time, year‐round earn 93 cents for every dollar men earn as RNs.
- Women working full-time, year-round earn 91 cents for every dollar men earn as LVNs.
Despite these differences, it must be noted that the wage gap between men and women in nursing is substantially smaller than the 77 cents to the dollar average across all occupations in America.
With the high salaries attainable through nursing, increased recruitment efforts, and expanding job opportunities, it seems likely that the percentage of men in nursing will only continue to rise across America.
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