Certainly times have changed for men in nursing since 2000. That’s when Ben Stiller’s character in the movie remake of “Meet the Parents” brought down the house defending his choice to become a nurse instead of a physician, his killer SAT score notwithstanding. To the ridicule and disdain of Robert DeNiro, playing a retired CIA operative and over-protective father-in-law-to-be, Stiller hilariously raised the specter of every negative stereotype imaginable about male nurses.

Perhaps today Stiller’s chosen profession would be more acceptable, and the scene wouldn’t get quite so many laughs.

Positive signs

Wishful thinking? We don’t think so. The male nursing workforce has grown to more than 350,000 full-time equivalents in 2016, according to the latest data from the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at Montana State University. Just ten years earlier, in 2006, there were only about 175,000.

There is room for improvement in attracting more men — especially more underrepresented minority men — to the field.

Not surprisingly, men in nursing earn more on average than their female counterparts. More men than women and work  plum jobs in hospitals versus lower-paying outpatient clinics, nursing homes and other community-based health care centers. While that’s a downside for gender equality and pay parity, it does reflect the increased status of men in nursing.

Another encouraging sign: the proportion of male nurses of color and other underrepresented ethnic and racial minorities has, since 2004, remained higher than the proportion of minority female RNs.

Room for improvement

However, men still represent only 11 percent of the RN workforce, a figure that has held steady since 2011. Among National League for Nursing (NLN) members surveyed, just 6.4 percent of full-time nurse educators in 2017 were men, and men represented a paltry 14 percent of students enrolled in pre-licensure RN programs in 2016. Overall diversity within nursing and among nurse faculty, including the numbers of underrepresented minority men, remains unacceptably low.

There is room for improvement in attracting more men — especially more underrepresented minority men — to the field. NLN and other researchers have borne out the importance of cultural sensitivity in health care delivery, in particular the superior outcomes that result from nurses who reflect the demographics of their patient population.

Strategy for schools

Moreover, increasing diversity in nursing requires a strategic plan to make schools of nursing more inclusive. One key is the recruitment and retention of faculty that represent minority groups within the nursing workforce itself.

It stands to reason, therefore, that more men need to be encouraged to pursue advanced degrees in nursing that qualify them to teach. One way to address the shortage of nurse educators that has plagued the field for some time now is to reach out to men and make clear the benefits of a career in nursing education.