A challenge for colleges: Getting more men into nursing programs

Health-related programs offer opportunities for both colleges and their students, but it can be a challenge to overcome stereotypes and recruit men to these programs, Karin Fischer reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Four of the five fastest-growing careers are in health care, Fischer reports, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But many jobs in health care are populated mostly by women. For example, 90% of registered nurses are women, Fischer reports. Women also make up a large share of nurse practitioners and home health aides.

But few men are applying to these jobs, even those that earn high salaries. Many men prefer instead to work in industries more dominated by men, such as the manufacturing or coal industries, Fischer writes.

Men entering the nursing field also face a range of negative stereotypes. For example, the film Meet the Parents features several jokes at the expense of the protagonist, a male nurse. Men in the profession may be seen as effeminate or accused of trying to take advantage of female patients.

Another reason men eschew jobs in health care is because many of those jobs require at least an associate degree, in addition to skills in math and science, Fischer writes. Colleges can recruit men to health care programs, but prerequisite requirements are a barrier to many blue-collar workers.

However, jobs are declining in the sectors popular with male workers. For example, during the past two decades, manufacturing has shed five million jobs, Fischer reports.

"There are a lot of angry, frustrated men waiting around for manufacturing jobs to reappear, but there’s never going to be the kind of mass employment we once had," says David Autor, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In recent years, nursing organizations have tried to promote the field to men. Fischer points to one recent campaign that asked: "Are you man enough to be a nurse?"

Colleges are also promoting the nursing profession to men. For example, Community College of Alleghany County is careful to include men in its marketing materials, Fischer writes. This way, young men will see themselves in the profession. Such efforts have resulted in higher male participation—about 15% of 900 nursing graduates in 2016 were male, she reports.

Men who are already in jobs that require interaction with nurses may also be good candidates for nursing programs, Fischer writes. That makes becoming a nurse more convenient for students in the paramedics program at Lorain Community College, for example, because the college has an accelerated pathway into its nursing program, Fischer writes (Fischer, Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/28). 

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