Three decades ago, chances were if you encountered a professional man in scrubs or a lab coat in a healthcare setting, you’d think he was a physician. He might, however, have been one of the few nurses who happened to be a man.

The number of U.S. men in nursing has tripled in number since the 1970s — a still small, but steady rise that promises to jump further in the coming decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 3.5 million nurses employed in the U.S. in 2011, just 330,000, or about 10%, were male.

It hadn’t always been this way. For much of American history, women had been excluded from care of the ill and injured beyond their own homes; and nurses who were men served as an important part of society. Following the Civil War, during which thousands of females volunteered in caregiving roles, nursing grew beyond unskilled work to become a highly trained profession — one that prevailing attitudes of the time considered suited to women. The formation of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901, which barred men from practicing as nurses in the military, and legal and other barriers that restricted men from training in nursing schools, began the shift to nursing as the female-dominated profession that we know today. The availability of a variety of higher paying jobs for men, coupled with stereotyping based on long-held definitions of masculinity, also contributed to fewer and fewer men employed with “women’s work” in nursing roles.

Times have changed, and so have attitudes. Growing recognition of the need to diversify the nursing workforce, as well as attractive salaries, are busting the notion that nursing is for women only. In its landmark 2010 report on the future of nursing, the Institute of Medicine has pushed for greater emphasis on the recruitment of men into the profession; and groups like the American Assembly for Men in Nursing are challenging barriers, developing role models and educating the public about rewarding opportunities for men in nursing.

Here are five reasons why today’s male nurses rock — and why men will be rocking the nursing profession in years to come.

1. Nurses who are men bring much-needed diversity to the nursing workforce.

Experts say that to provide the highest quality healthcare, the nursing profession must practice cultural competence and mirror the diversity reflected in the U.S. patient population. Some patients are more receptive to care provided by individuals of similar backgrounds or gender.

2. Male nurses are urgently needed to help avert a looming shortage of RNs.

A shortage of registered nurses is expected to grow as the Baby Boom generation ages, more people require healthcare services and aging nurses retire. Men will be needed to fill a growing gap in highly skilled nursing care.

3. Men are just as emotionally suited to nursing as women.

There’s no doubt that nursing is an emotionally charged profession. Nurses are committed to caring for people, but those feelings aren’t reserved for women only. Male nurses are equally invested in nurturing the health and well-being of their patients. They’re also well suited to the pressure and excitement of nurses’ daily work.

4. Men like science, too.

Nursing is equal parts art and science. Today’s nurses are highly educated individuals whose skills lean toward methodology, theory-guided practice and research as well as caregiving. Men have as much interest in and aptitude for the theoretical framework of nursing science as their female counterparts.

5. Men don’t take it personally.

Although their numbers are increasing, men in nursing are still a minority that battles stereotypes. While it’s no longer rare to be cared for by a nurse who happens to be male, some patients are unaccustomed to men in nursing roles. Men in the profession are naturally inclined — or have learned — to shake off the occasional reluctance by patients to their practice. Regardless of their patients’ misconceptions, nurses who are male, like all nurses, focus on improving the health of each of their patients. Just like their female peers, above all they’re nurses first.

Originally posted on 5/5/2016

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