The Current Nursing Shortage

Although not everyone agrees that there is a nursing shortage in the United States based on examples of new graduates being unable to find employment (Nelson, 2009), the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) published a fact sheet in August 2012 detailing the numerous and complex issues related to the current and predicted nursing shortage. According to their data, there is clearly a nursing shortage in certain geographical areas and in certain specialties. The shortages appear to be most predominant in the South and West regions of the United States.

Most experts agree that there is a critical shortage of qualified and credentialed men and women engaged in the practice of nursing and that the issue is global and not just problematic for the United States (McLaughlin et al., 2010; Stott, 2006). There is no relief in sight for the shortage, which is predicted to be at an all-time high in the year 2020 (Stott, 2006) when 55% of the current nurses will retire (Orlovsky, 2006). McLaughlin et al. (2010) also point out that relying only on women to prevent the critical nursing shortage in the future would be a huge mistake.

Impact of Recruiting More Men into Nursing

Nursing leaders continue to struggle with the question of value in diversifying the profession. O’Lynn and Tranbarger (2007) discuss the long-lasting impact of the false Nightengalian belief that men are not suited for nursing but that "every woman is a nurse." Nursing administrators support the concept that the profession must reflect a variety of ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious background to provide care to the wide and growing diversity of patients; and although gender diversity is also crucial, it is rarely addressed by nursing leaders (p. 243). This can partially be explained by a concern that as men progress to administration at a disproportionately high rate, the decision-making power will become primarily male and oppressive of women.

Although somewhat dated and currently considered politically incorrect, there is a relatively common belief that if the majority of nurses were men, the field would be more prestigious and seen more as a profession. This likely stems back to the practice of women coming and going from the profession throughout their life. They would work initially but then quit when they married and/or when they had children. They might enter the workforce several times over a 30-year period while only the minority were consistently in the field of nursing as the primary wage earner. Men tend to be more consistent as well as more demanding related to working conditions and compensation. As a slightly different viewpoint, Walker (2011) states that nursing does not need men, it needs humans that care for their patients – regardless of their gender.

Most experts agree that there is a critical shortage of qualified and credentialed men and women in nursing.

There is no doubt that men are needed and have an important role to play in the nursing profession. Not only will their presence potentially curb the nursing shortage, but there are estimates that more men in the field would increase the level of prestige, pay, and benefits for all nurses. Increasing the number of men on the faculty of nursing schools would likely have the same effect on academe and provide a more conducive atmosphere for male nursing students (McLaughlin et al., 2010). However, these changes will require a major paradigm shift. One of the fundamental changes resides in the attitude, beliefs, perceptions, behavior, and pedagogical practices of nursing educators.

One phrase that reoccurs in the literature on men in nursing is the "glass elevator" indicating a smooth, quick ride to the top of the career ladder for men as opposed to the "glass ceiling" women often face in male-dominated professions. McMurry (2007) points out that unlike women who work in predominately-male career fields, men have numerous advantages when they work in a predominately-female occupation such as nursing. Research consistently reveals that, because of their underrepresentation, men maintain an advantage over other status groups such as women in positions of authority (Walker, 2011). Men are given fair, if not preferential consideration in hiring and promotion decisions, are accepted by supervisors and colleagues, and are well integrated into the workplace subculture. Rangel, Kleiner, and Kleiner (2011) validated that men are often viewed as "tokens" in the nursing field because they differed from the mainstream of the majority group. As a result, men receive "special" minority status and are able to get promotions at a larger rate than their female counterparts.

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