Although nurses acknowledge that diversity in the workplace makes for a healthier, more collaborative professional environment, a wide gender disparity remains in the nursing field. However, progress is slowly being made.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that of more than 3.1 million full-time registered nurses in the U.S., only 11 percent are male, but the number of men in nursing increases annually. Forty years ago, fewer than 50,000 registered nurses were men compared to nearly 350,000 today.

An increase in nurse turnover is expected over the next few years. According to a 2017 AMN Healthcare survey of registered nurses, more than one in four nurses plans to retire within a year, and 73 percent of baby boomers expect to retire in three years or less. Now men are uniquely positioned to help fill both the gender and workforce gaps.

Men as caretakers

Derek Florence, a registered nurse at a children’s hospital in Ohio, understands the gender gulf exists in part because of a perceived nurturing gap. But he has a different viewpoint.

Diversity reinforces the richness of contributions that every member of the healthcare team brings.

“There’s the perception that we’re not as caring as our female counterparts,” Florence says. “I bring a unique perspective to the bedside – especially with male patients and kids in their teens – and an opportunity to connect with them and invest in them.”

Florence grew up an avid sports enthusiast but turned in his basketball sneakers and “mediocre jump shot” to join his church on a three-week mission of mercy to a Kenyan orphanage. That volunteer work radically changed his life, his worldview and his career path.

“Nurses spend their time at the bedside, in the trenches, and that’s where I wanted to be,” Florence remembers. “We don’t just see the roller coaster our patients are on; we ride it with them.”

Vital resources

Seth Durant, a critical care nurse in a Fresno, California, cardiac intensive care unit, is fluent in English and Spanish. This makes him a vital resource to team with colleagues, translate for patients and their families and overcome communication difficulties.

Integral to the success of Durant and any nurse is skilled communication and collaboration, which are tenets of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ “Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments.”

“My Spanish isn’t just handy. It’s a godsend,” Durant says. “Many times we’ve changed a patient’s outcome or the family’s perception of what’s going on by the simple fact that we can communicate without getting lost in translation.”

Durant’s bilingual skills make him popular in his unit.

“Another blessing of speaking Spanish is that I instantly become the patient and family’s favorite nurse,” Durant says. “All of a sudden you go to the nurse who speaks their language.”

As more men join the nursing field, they bring varied backgrounds, life experiences and personal sensibilities with them. Diversity reinforces the richness of contributions that every member of the healthcare team brings to the unit and to patients and their families.