Jake Creviston, a nurse practitioner, has been repeatedly mistaken for a doctor.
Adam White says the veterans he cares for as a student nurse at the VA hospital feel comfortable around him because “I’m a big burly guy with a beard.”
Glenn Fletcher, after being laid off from a lumber mill during the financial crisis, found a new career in nursing. And with it, “a really good feeling putting your head on the pillow realizing you’ve helped other people.”
The experiences of male nurses offer lessons that could help address a problem of our time: how to prepare workers for the fastest-growing jobs, at a time when more than a quarter of men are not in the labor force.
Only 13 percent of nurses in the United States are men, but that share has grown steadily since 1960, when the number was 2 percent, according to a working paper published in October by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
“It’s not a flood, but it’s a change,” said Abigail Wozniak, an economist at the University of Notre Dame, who wrote the paper with Elizabeth Munnich, an economist at the University of Louisville. The biggest drivers, they found, were the changing economy and expanding gender roles.
We talked to a dozen male nurses, with various career paths and specialties, working in the Pacific Northwest, where recruitment efforts have focused on bringing men into nursing. Some were drawn to the caregiving, others to the adrenaline of the work. It’s a reliable, well-paying job at a time when that’s hard to come by, they said, but also one they feel proud of.
Women have been entering male-dominated fields for decades, but it’s less common for a predominantly female occupation to have a substantial increase in its share of men. Yet the jobs that are shrinking tend to be male ones, and those that are growing are mostly traditionally female.
Nursing is no paragon of gender equality: Even though men are a minority in the field, they are paid more than women. The stigma against men still runs deep, particularly among older patients and in parts of the country with more traditional gender roles, nurses said.
But for some men, the notion that caregiving jobs are women’s work is outdated. Progressive attitudes about gender roles, as measured by the General Social Survey, were associated with more men who entered nursing, the new paper found.
The researchers also found that economic factors have played a role — a decline in some jobs because of automation, trade and the housing crisis, and a growth in jobs and wages in health care. Nursing is growing much faster than the average occupation, and wages have increased steadily since 1980. The median salary is $68,450, about the same as the median salary for college-educated workers overall.
Nursing is a career that both men and women often start later in life, in part because it’s possible to become certified midcareer and without a bachelor’s degree. But as hospitals increasingly require nurses to have a four-year degree, it could become a barrier for men who want to enter the field, the researchers said.
Male nurses are more likely than females to have worked as an emergency medical technician, military nurse or lab technician, and to work in acute care in hospitals rather than primary care clinics. Nearly half of nurse anesthetists, one of the highest-paying nursing jobs, are men.