Where are the guys?

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I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more men in nursing. Back when I graduated in 1983, about 2 percent of nurses were male.

Nowadays, they say it’s about 5 percent—not much progress toward gender balance. I have worked with only a few dozen men over the years, most of them decidedly straight, quite a few openly gay, one (that I knew of) who was transgendered and a few undecided—but who cares? What difference does it make? What is really mind-boggling is that there are not more men in nursing, still today. I once asked my friend Theo how he chose nursing.

“It drove my father crazy when I told him,” he said, “but I think he’s come around. I’ve always known I wanted to be a nurse. The guidance counselor at school spent two hours one day trying to get me to change my mind. He said, ‘Theo, what about medicine or law?’ But I didn’t want to be a doctor and I knew I wasn’t a good enough liar to be a lawyer!”

“Why aren’t there more men in nursing, Theo?”

“It’s different for gay men. We don’t feel we have to hide our soft, caring side, but most straight guys are afraid it will make people raise questions about their sexuality.”

Do you agree with Theo? Is it easier for gay men to be nurses? Harder for straight men to enter our profession?

The preceding  is an excerpt from The Making of a Nurse . Copyright © 2007 Tilda Shalof. Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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Tilda Shalof

Tilda Shalof RN, BScN, CNCC (C) has been a staff nurse in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Toronto General Hospital of the University Health Network, for the past twenty-four years. She is also the author of the bestseller, A Nurse’s Story and an outspoken patient advocate, passionate nurse leader, public speaker, and media commentator. She lives in Toronto with her husband, Ivan Lewis and their two sons, Harry and Max. Learn more about Tilda and her books at nursetilda.com.

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26 Responses to Where are the guys?

  1. LCarney

    I am a heterosexual male nurse, and I make no excuses for being a nurse. Im as caring and compassionate as any other nurse, male or female and my patients all recognize that about me. Honestly, if there is some stereotype about male nurses, it means absolutely nothing to me.

  2. Shane S.

    I disagree. Most men that I know, including myself, that are in nursing are secure enough with their sexuality that they don’t care what people think about them when they show compassion to a patient. I think most people know that nurses in general must have some compassion or they would not have chosen the career field they did. I don’t think that anybody has to hide their soft side in nursing, gay, straight, male female, both neither, no matter what their sexual preference. We all do the same thing with the same patients. Sexuality shouldn’t have anything to do with it if we’re all professionals.

  3. art

    My father used to introduce me by saying, “this is my son Art he is a registered nurse but he used to be a u.s. marine.” I have never cared what people thought about my sexuality ,but it did bother me to have to go sit in the hall during the tranex presents “the female catheterization” in nursing school.

  4. Bernard

    I think it’s rather odd that anyone would think a person’s sexuality would decide how good a nurse that person would make. I’m male and don’t have an issue with being compassionate to patients. The great majority of my patients and their families have been very appreciative of me.

    The only time I’ve had any issue of sexuality brought up to me was while I was in nursing school and one of my coworkers told another that I was weird because I wanted to be a male nurse.

    I replied that it would be a lot weirder if I wanted to be a female nurse.

  5. Mike

    I’m a male nurse and I don’t see anything about the profession that has anything to do with gender. It’s just an old stereotype.

  6. Randy

    I also disagree. My profession is the one that I choosen, and I’m heterosexual

  7. Kevin

    Great responses, but it still leaves the question unanswered, “Why aren’t there more men in nursing?” It’s hard work, but good money compared to other jobs that may require a degree. But to make lots of money, you usually have to work difficult hours.
    But in comparison to other jobs that people take … I don’t know why there aren’t more men.

  8. Jim Mitre

    I agree with Kevin. The question is still unanswered. “Why aren’t there more men in nursing?” Art and Bernard referenced nursing school. Consider this: How many of us graduated with all the men that started the program with us? I didn’t. Most of my friends had guys drop from their programs. Maybe we should look at how we educate men in our nursing programs.
    As far as the sexuality issue goes, being compassionate is more important than what someone else thinks about my sexual preferences.

  9. brett

    The reasons more men aren’t nurses is because the profession is traditionally a female one. Even so, I have worked with numerous nurses who are men — and not gay (myself included). But nursing has more problems than finding more men (gay or otherwise) — women are also choosing other professions. Nurses have a hard road ahead to change the negative perceptions society has of nurses in general.

  10. Noah

    I am a nurse who is a male, not a male nurse. Because I was a man before I became a nurse. With that being said, I think you will see even more men entering nursing as the scope of nursing practice, especially advanced practice nursing continues to expand.

  11. Daren

    A nurse is a nurse is a nurse. It doesn’t matter to me what a person’s gender or identity is. I’ve been a nurse for 11 years now. I’ve worked with only a few male nurses. The one thing we all have in common is, WE’RE NURSES. We care. We’re professional. We’re in demand.

  12. Karen

    I’ve been an RN for almost 40 years. I am thrilled to see more men in the profession. They bring a much needed perspective to our field. Nursing is no longer about just being soft and compassionate .I’ve seen nursing come a LONG way in 40 years. It’s no longer about just being soft and compassionate. Those are important values, but we are now so much about technology and the bar for critical thinking skills has been raised quite high. There is room for BOTH genders to meet the needs of today’s patients. Believe me, they are different than when I was a young nurse.
    PS. LET’S PLEASE DO AWAY WITH CAPS! They no longer have the same significance they once did.

  13. Karen

    I’ve been an RN for almost 40 years. I am thrilled to see more men in the profession. They bring a much needed perspective to our field. Nursing is no longer about just being soft and compassionate .I’ve seen nursing come a LONG way in 40 years. . Those are important values, but we are now so much about technology and the bar for critical thinking skills has been raised quite high. There is room for BOTH genders to meet the needs of today’s patients. Believe me, they are different than when I was a young nurse.
    PS. LET’S PLEASE DO AWAY WITH CAPS! They no longer have the same significance they once did.

  14. C.J.

    Im a straight guy and work psych (that too is a stereotype) prob closer to 30-40% males. Anyone know the ratio per specialty.

  15. Your name

    I think the answer is pretty easy. It’s because the general public still has a stigma associated with men in nursing. I am an R.N. and I love when I work with male nurses. They bring qualities to their job that I think us female nurses don’t bring, as well as vice-versa. However, after seeing me reap the emotional and financial rewards of being an R.N., my six year old son said one day that he wanted to be a nurse when he grew up. I was surprised when my husband quickly said, “oh no!” Apparently my husband is one that still believes that it is a female profession. I, for one, would be happy if my son became a nurse. Male nurses rock!

  16. Sara

    I did clinicals at a hospital that had a few male nurses on staff. Both males and females on that floor worked well together. One of the men was a great teacher for us in my class. I don’t feel sexuality has anything to do with men and nursing. As for why there are not more men in nursing I don’t know. But I know the ones I have worked with were great! We had one guy start with our class but he dropped out right before the end of the 1st semester. He had issues with changing, bathing, and cathters on men.

  17. I think the reason why less men chose nursing was because they didn’t want to be sterotyped, and that they felt that the job is more for females. Some think that being at the bedside and cleaning and helping patients will make them less male. While being an architect, or a doctor or a lawyer will make them more male because you need to be bossy on these jobs. But that does not make sense at all. Your job should not define your sexuality. I am surgical nurse by profession, and my wife is a civil engineer. How’s that :)
    Check out my nursing life at

  18. Jared

    I think it is how the media portrays us (RN’s) and the lack of recruitment targeted towards men in the younger workforce. At my school, UMKC School of Nursing we have programmes in place to ensure the recruitment and retention of males in our program and it has been really successful. Also, in partnership with other local schools we have started a local chapter of the American Association of Men in Nurse – the Joe Hogan Heartland Chapter.

    We as individuals and organizations need promote the image of nursing and men in nursing. I really look forward to seeing how everything pans out for the profession since I am going to graduate just this May! (2011)

    Go ROO’s

  19. LM

    I recently graduated from nursing school, and in our class of 36, 9 were men. I feel like men often have a unique perspective to offer, and I hope that more men enter the profession. (One of my favorite nurses I worked with in my clinical rotations was male, so I may be biased.)

  20. Josef

    I believe the media plays a large role in stereotyping nurses…especially male nurses. If you see a male nurse on TV, or in a movie, most of the time, he’s gay. That’s lame in this day and age. All the the straight men in the Hollywood medical field are either doctors or EMTs.

    I do however disagree with the statement that gay men feel more free to show that theyre caring, I just don’t buy it. I didnt become a nurse because I’m gay and wrapped up in rainbows and rolled in puppies with all my patients.

  21. Stephen Farley,RN

    What the hell difference does it make what your sexual orientation is when you’re caring for patients? For the life of me I can’t understand. I didn’t go into nursing because I’m gay. I was one of those who graduated college, didn’t want to go to medical school, but could do many of the same things a doctor does, have the relationships with my patients and still be a professional in the healing arts. I, therefore, decided to be an RN. It had NOTHING to do with my sexuality. And I despise the guys who so proudly declare they;’re a nurse, BUT, they’re straight. So, the hell what? Nobody cares. I’ll bet when your patients wakes up in the ICU after open heart surgery and sees your face, the last thing they’re thinking about is what your sexual orientation is. Come on! Most people don’t care, and the few that do – well, smile, do you best and move on – you probably won’t change their minds no matter what you do. Those patients often don’t deal in the realm of reason and intelligence.
    I went into nursing in 1978 where I was often the only male RN, but not one patient has ever asked me if Ii was gay. I’d like to think they didn’t care. But if they asked, I would politely tell them it’s none of their business, and then proceed to talk about something relevant and interesting. So, men, we’re NOT “male nurses” we’re not gay or straight in that it doesn’t matter one bit – our patients want to know that we can take care good care of them if there’s a problem and we’ll intervene on their behalf if necessary.

  22. Ari

    We’re slowly making our way into this field. Just give us time. :)

    Of my class of 36, 8 are men. Of those- 4 are ex-military, two were construction workers, and one had previous medical field experience. Orientation- either gay, straight, or what have you- doesn’t make a difference… it’s confidence and desire to help others.

  23. AaronLPN LPN

    I don’t think Theo is correct at all.
    I know a few big burly “manly men” who are nurses becasue they want to do something productive with their lives. Myself, I used to be a glass maker (worked with molten glass for 12 years) and in my class there was an ex heavy duty mechanic, cabinette maker, another glass maker, a guy who worked in a chrome shop and a guy who built motorhomes. We were all straight “manly” men (to use a phrase I hate!)
    Our common theme was we wanted a career where we could make an impact on people.
    The other thing guys should consider with nursing, is the technical side. We get to work with and use some pretty cool devices!
    Finally, as I say to people who think nursing is for “girls and gays” I tell them the truth: What I see and experince in one week would have you in therapy for years. Have you ever touched, never mind handled and cleaned a dead body? What about open wounds that are infected down the bone? Then shut up. (I sometimes lose my nursing empathy with the ignorant types.)
    Also, it was my Dad who suggested nursing in the first place! Thanks DAD!

  24. okie_goalie

    As a nurse, I am as caring and compassionate as anyone. I take pride in that fact. I’ve never had anyone question my preferences because of it. I also play ice hockey in my spare time. I have the scars to prove it too. I laugh with people who know I’m a hockey player and a nurse, telling them, “I can beat you into the ice, then bandage you up when I’m done.”

  25. abright123

    This is the second article I have read that is totally asinine! The other called the ” gay male nurse” . I am a registered nurse. When a patient is in need of care it doesn’t matter what my sexual orientation is. So for the authors of these pathetic excuses of writing, go see a therapist and deal with your own sexual acceptance. People choose nursing for a variety of reasons,but to try to link sexual preference to compassion and empathy is plane insanity. You can be a sensitive straight man or a cold hearted diva gay man. I really don’t care what my coworkers think about my sexuality nor do I care about theirs. I am their to perform the career I have chosen. SO! Next time you decide to write something and post , make it something of substance and not something that might be discussed in a middle school locker room .

  26. alellis62nurse

    I think the reason there is still such a small number of men in nursing is because of nursing school. Nursing school is taught by women who teach the way a woman thinks. This makes it harder on men. In my class of 120 that I started with 12 were men. Only 5 of the 12 finished school. 60% of the men did not finish as opposed to only 30% of the women who did not finish. There will never be equality as long as nursing school is this way. Men are not recruited for nursing either. It is a woman’s profession and they want it that way. By the way, I am straight and I love being a nurse. I feel men are better nurses because we want to be a nurse as opposed to a lot of women who see it as a secure job and do it for that reason.