Does Nursing Need A Rebrand To Attract More Men?


By Erica Carbajal

A nursing background can lead to a myriad of job paths. That comes as no surprise to those already working in the profession, but there's an immense opportunity for healthcare organizations to do a better job at showcasing just how diverse the range of career options are with a nursing degree — especially when it comes to attracting more men to the field.

BLS data shows roughly roughly 12 percent of the nation's nurses were men in 2022 — progress that has been slow moving over the past few years. Those in healthcare are well aware that there's no shortage of opportunities in the industry, but society still holds outdated perceptions about the profession that could hinder progress toward recruiting more male nurses.

"The limitless possibilities of a career in nursing are often shrouded by decades-old gender norms and the historical representation of nurses as bedside caregivers working in the hospital setting," said Megan Gillespie, DNP, RN, chief nursing officer and vice president of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

I recently spoke to four nursing leaders about key opportunities to attract more men to the profession and to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce overall.

Start downhill

In today's labor market, it's commonplace to hear about hospitals and health systems collaborating with community colleges and even high schools as they look for ways to get more creative with recruitment and retention. To really make a dent in attracting more men to nursing, however, there's room for these efforts to start even earlier.

"We need nurses who are male to go to high schools and middle schools to be that representative that shows kids that it's not just a female thing," said Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, RN. "I was talking to a student a few weeks ago and he said, 'Nursing was never an option until I saw my friend's dad was a nurse.' Having men who are nurses go into career fairs and other things to talk about their roles is really powerful because we really need to start downhill — elementary, middle school and high school — to help kids see a whole wide range of possibilities."

Many of the certified registered nurse anesthetists at St. Louis-based BJC Healthcare are men, said Tommye Austin, PhD, RN, senior vice president and chief nursing executive at the health system. This reflects a national trend, as men's representation is highest among nurse anesthetists compared to other nursing occupations. Beyond this, Dr. Austin has worked with plenty of male nurses throughout her career, including former managers.

"I know that men can flourish in the profession," she said. To get this message into the community, Dr. Austin participates with the Boys and Girls Club in St. Louis and is considering joining the Boy Scouts board to talk about nursing and offer the opportunity for young people to come in and shadow men in different roles.

A marketing revamp

A significant marketing opportunity exists to highlight where a career in nursing can actually lead. Take the example of Sean DeGarmo, PhD, RN, director of advanced practice initiatives and certification outreach. He's worked as a flight nurse and a consultant for a major firm, has taught trauma for the military and teaches nursing at the graduate level.

"There's just a constant opportunity to either rebrand yourself, or if you are interested in a career where there really isn't a limit to what you do, I think this is an excellent opportunity," Dr. DeGarmo said.

The healthcare industry can likely attract more individuals to the profession by better educating them on where a career in nursing can take them outside of traditional bedside roles, Dr. Gillespie said.

"There's a huge gap in knowledge and understanding about what roles nurses can fulfill. There are a multitude of different avenues and specialties that you can pursue in the profession of nursing, in addition to a clinical bedside professional RN, including informatics, advanced practice, and population health focus," she said.

Given how ingrained the traditional view of nurses and caregivers being female is in society, it's that much more important for hospitals and healthcare organizations to ensure representation in marketing materials and other visuals.

And while nursing isn't widely considered a STEM profession, it should be, according to Dr. Mensik Kennedy. "I think that is a lost opportunity from a branding perspective because of the enormous amount of science that does go into nursing and care," she said.


The average student debt for an associate degree in nursing is nearly $20,000. That bumps up to nearly $24,000 for a BSN and $47,000 for an MSN, according to an analysis of 2019 data from Nerdwallet. Many hospitals and health systems offer tuition coverage in exchange for a work commitment from nurses. Initiatives like these are ever more important, since many nurse graduates don't qualify for income-driven loan forgiveness programs.

"[Many nurses] don't qualify for loan repayment because the limits are very low in regards to how much money they can make, and so I see that as an obstacle," said Dr. Austin of BJC Healthcare. "The limit should be pushed up closer to what physicians make so that nurses can be reimbursed for those loans," especially when demand is so high.

And the financial barrier of going to school is just half the battle, she said. Healthcare organizations also have an opportunity to provide other resources and assistance around child care and social management. Over the past year, hospitals' efforts to support and incentivize workers have expanded, with some offering a child care subsidy to support employees' daycare expenses.

The bottom line

It starts with education. Rather than a complete rebrand of the profession, nursing leaders and other stakeholders must invest in efforts to educate their communities about nursing's diverse career paths.

"We really need to shine a light in a compelling and comprehensive way on … what this profession really has to offer," Dr. Gillespie said. "It's a unique career, and it is rapidly changing and evolving."


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