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Why are there more Male Nurses in the Operating Room?

In a female-dominated career like nursing, you may wonder why men would gravitate towards a specialty or area of expertise. However, if you examine the trends in healthcare, the stereotypes facing male nurses, and the opportunities working in the operating room offers for a male nurse, the answer becomes clear. Male nurses are going to the opportunities and away from the barriers.

A career in nursing – outlook and statistics

Registered nurses (RNs) are responsible for coordinating and providing patient care, serving as liaisons between doctors and patients, and offering emotional support to family members of patients, as well as patients themselves.

Nursing is a fast-growing career segment in a slow-moving economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 20% to 28% growth in the sector from 2010 to 2020. That adds up to more than 1.2 million job openings worth approximately $66,000 a year, or $31 an hour. It’s easy to see why men might be attracted to the profession.

RNs are employed at several different types of facilities and can follow different educational paths. However, it doesn’t matter if they choose a nursing bachelor’s degree, a nursing associate’s degree or a nursing program. There are overwhelmingly more female than male nurses.

Percentage of men in nursing and growth of the gender in the profession

Of the approximately 2.9 million registered nurses in the United States, there are less than 170,000 male RNs. That’s less than six percent of the total population. However, that is a number that’s growing. In 1975, 97% of nurses were female. In 1995, that number has fallen to 93%. We can also look at the age of nurses to see the influx of male nurses. Generally, male RNs are younger than female RNs. For male RNs, 66% are younger than 50 and 30% are younger than 40. For females, 58% are younger than 50 and 26% are younger than 40.

Barriers and stereotypes

Even though the male nurse population is growing, this growth isn’t without barriers. There is still some discrimination against men in both the educational and professional sectors. At East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, it’s commonplace for instructors to use feminine pronouns when referring to nurses. While male doctors in Obstetrics and Gynecology are common, it can also be more difficult for a male nurse to find work in women’s health. One male nurse remembered an instance when a new mother was being instructed how to breast-feed her newborn. She felt uncomfortable with him present, which in turn made him feel uncomfortable.

Nursing specialties and levels – Who works in the OR?

Everyone understands the concept of a nurse. Not everyone knows there are multiple levels of nursing certification and specialties. Nurses in the operating room can be involved in surgery as RN first assistants, who are responsible for providing surgical care, scrub nurses, who handle and manages surgical tools and instruments, and circulator nurses, who care for the patient before and after the operation.

The first step in getting to the operating room would at least be a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) certification. Nurses at this level cannot fill a doctor’s orders; they require direction from more senior nurses. This level of nurse diploma would typically take a year to complete.

The next level up would be a Registered Nurse, who can fill doctor’s orders directly. They can actually assist in surgery, manage other nurses and operate some medical equipment. Typically, this level of nurse would have at minimum two years of education and more likely a four-year degree. This educational requirement would be the same regardless of gender.

Why would men choose the Operating Room?

We’ve established that the male nurse population is growing, but men in nursing still face significant barriers and prejudices. That brings us to the question of why men would choose the Operating Room.

Since male nurses face gender discrimination in the delivery room and gynecology, they naturally gravitate to other roles. These roles include intensive care, emergency and, to no surprise, operating room nursing. That is why you would find more male nurses in the operating room. They’re simply moving away from the barriers, and towards the opportunities.

Nursing Scholarships

American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) American Cancer Society Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship
The Gates Millenium Scholars (GMS) National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)
New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) Nurse Corps Scholarship (NCS) Nurses of Tomorrow
Nursing Economics Foundation Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Holistic Nurses Association

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