A Few Good Men


Florence Nightingale, a woman whose name is synonymous with nursing, made famous the statement, “Every woman is a nurse.”  Popular concepts of nursing are so entrenched in feminine presumptions that we even refer to breastfeeding as “nursing”.  For men who choose this stereotypically female profession, redefining nursing and care giving in gender-neutral terms is an uphill battle. 

By the most recent estimates, less than six percent of American nurses are men.  While the number of men entering the profession is steadily and quietly growing, retention is an issue.  In a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania in 2002, a startling trend was identified.  Men leave nursing at twice the rate of women.  Speculations about causes for the drop-out rates vary.  Some researchers cite decreased job satisfaction for men, recounting tales of anti-male discrimination in nursing.  Others say that men are more likely to view bedside nursing as a stepping stone to more technical or administrative positions. 

Repeated surveys report that men and women are drawn to nursing for identical reasons.  In a particularly thoughtful piece in the Wall Street Journal in April 2007, journalist-turned nurse John Blanton reflects his post 9/11 career change.  He writes with gritty honesty about the challenges of working the night shift as a new nurse in a New York City burn unit.  There is no girlishness or submission here.  It is a grueling, humbling job.   And yet, as women have entered medical school in droves, forming a majority in the former old-boys world and rendering the term “lady doctor” laughably preposterous, we have not seen similar gender leveling in nursing.

Among the total student body of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, a program touted as the most “male-friendly” nursing program in country, a mere 7.2 percent is male.  Of note, a group called MANUP (Male Association of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania) has formed on this campus to address issues specific to male health at the university.  Last year also marked the initiation of a new publication issued by Lipincott, Williams, & Wilkins entitled Men in Nursing.  Perhaps these relatively minor developments signal a larger change in public consciousness. 

It may be a while yet before we, as a culture, drop the “male” identifier when speaking of a non-female nurse.  As anyone familiar with gallows humor understands, when a subject is uncomfortable or confusing, people laugh it into management.  Such is the case with male nurses, a subject pop culture still perceives as counter-intuitive.  The mainstream movie Meet the Fockers portrayed a male nurse, dubbed “murse”, with a dismissive butt-of-the-joke disregard.  Type “male nurse” into Google and the search engine spits back the web link to a party supply store where a male nurse action figure, complete with stethoscope and clipboard, can be purchased as a gag gift.    
It is our responsibility to promote nursing as an all-inclusive profession.  The next time a nurse’s manliness is questioned, feel free to cite the following examples that care giving is absolutely not the sole providence of long-suffering women.  The first organized nursing training school was in India in 250 BC and its doors were open only to men.   Further, famous American Leaves of Grass author Walt Whitman was a nurse who served during the Civil War.  Perhaps it is time to rewrite Nightingale’s assertion, and allow that a nurse is every compassionate person.  Period. 


  • Ta, L.  (10/10/06).  These men are nurses…and they’re proud of it.  The Daily Pennsylvanian. Accessed 11/6/07.


Copyright 2007- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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