Other than a tonsillectomy as a kid and childbirth as an adult, I’ve had few reasons to spend much time in a hospital.
So I’ll confess surprise at the number of male nurses who cared for Husband during a hospital stay last month. (I know, I know: The feminist in me winced at my reaction.) Come to find out, they represent a trend.
Twenty years ago, 5.7 percent of U.S. registered nurses were men; in 2011, 9.6 percent of RNs were. In real numbers, about 330,000 men worked as nurses in 2011 — as registered or licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists, the Census Bureau reported in February. That compares with 3.2 million women in the jobs.
Locally, about 7.6 percent of the registered nurses in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro are men, according to data posted by the state Labor Department. That’s about 675 of the region’s 8,900 RNs.
Academics, though, tell us that nursing once was exclusively male, harkening to men’s military and religious-order roles of caring for the injured on ancient battlefields. The gender shift came in the 1800s, they say, after Florence Nightingale — who saw nursing as an extension of a woman’s domestic caregiver role — founded the first secular school for nursing.
Mark Wahl, who oversees the associate degree program in nursing at Excelsior College in Albany, says men look to enter the profession for the same reasons as women: stability, good pay, flexibility, caring for others.
But many of them come to nursing as a second job or a second career.
That was Wahl’s path: A career Navy man, he became a registered nurse after retiring from the military, then worked at hospital bedsides locally for four years. “I loved working with patients,” he said.
Two years ago, after receiving a master’s degree in nursing education from Excelsior, he joined the college. He now also is membership coordinator for the New York Capital Region Chapter of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing, which the college co-sponsors.
At Excelsior, an accredited distance-learning institution geared to adults, the nursing school’s largest group of enrolled students is in the associate degree program. Wahl said these are licensed professionals — paramedics, EMTs, licensed practical nurses — “looking to improve where they’re at” or to move into a new field.
Once they’ve taken the requisite online courses and proficiency exams at Excelsior and completed their capstone clinical work, the students can sit for the national exam, known as NCLEX, to be licensed by their state as an RN.
Excelsior’s nursing school showed an 80-20 female-male split in students in 2012-13, according to the college. Nursing enrollment that year topped 19,200.
The gender split has remained steady in recent years, the college says, except at the master’s level, where male enrollment has increased slightly. Wahl said that is the level at which specialization occurs, which can translate into higher pay.
Indeed, the February Census Bureau report noted that men “are more likely to be found in highly paid nursing occupations,” including nurse anesthetists, where they can earn on average $162,900 annually — or about 21⁄2 times the men’s average for all nursing occupations.
Because women fill more of the lower-paying jobs in nursing, they average just 91 cents to every $1 earned by male nurses, the report says. That’s better than the wage gap of 77 cents across all occupations, but it makes the feminist in me wince again.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.