Is being male an advantage or disadvantage in nursing? 27 men weigh in

Bari Faye Dean – Wednesday, May 17th, 2023

If men are hesitant to enter the nursing profession, it may be thanks to historical public perception — think about Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton in their white dresses and starched hats. But that stereotype, according to male nurses, should be ancient history by now.

Becker’s spoke with more than 40 male nurses about men in nursing. Here are two points they all agree on.

First, the wealth of opportunities and tangible benefits offered by a career in nursing is not being marketed well to men. Whether it’s a lack of men depicted in nurse recruitment efforts or the nonexistence of fun but gender-neutral scrubs, they said, it’s time to crush stereotypes.

Second, especially these days, when the nursing shortage has affected almost every existing healthcare facility in the United States, men are considered an untapped resource. In fact, recently 21 male nurses who love their jobs offered suggestions on how to attract more men to the field.

We asked about the advantages men bring to the role and the disadvantages they come across often. We also asked: “What unique qualities do you bring to your role as a nurse on a team?” Of all the male nurses interviewed, we included comments from 27 here.

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Sean Bastian-Bennett, BSN, RN. Charge Nurse at Memorial Hermann (Houston): As a young male nurse, I was put into stressful situations with other female nurses who greatly appreciated a male presence for backup. In fact, in some cases, I believe patients need and prefer a male nurse based on their situation.

I don’t feel I have any specific skills that a woman does not have. But I have been told I bring a calm and confident presence; a strong, hard-working attitude; and a real compassionate experience for my patients.

Michael Boccia, RN. Assistant Nurse Manager at Zucker Hillside Hospital (Glen Oaks, N.Y.): I feel each gender has a lot to bring to the table, and we all have different skill sets to accomplish this goal. Some patients may feel more at ease with a certain gender caring for them as well.

I’ve realized through my time that it is beneficial to have male and female nurses who work together to accomplish the same goal, which is high quality patient care. I have only experienced positive experiences with coworkers regardless of their gender.

Justin Bowser, RN. Clinical Nursing Director of Medical Surgical, Neuro and Wound Ostomy Departments at Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center (Annapolis, Md.): I bring a sense of calmness during a storm. I am not someone who is quick to become emotional during trauma. I can clearly think and process the situation and move to a concise and thoughtful decision.

However, I find it is uncommon that my gender affects my work. It comes up occasionally during a cultural situation where a female may be uncomfortable with a certain aspect of a male caregiver.

Christopher Costello, MSN, RN. Director of Occupational Health & Wellness Organization at Garnet Health (Middletown, N.Y.): Though teamwork isn’t gender specific, having grown up playing sports, every member of the team needs to do their individual part for all to succeed. Nursing is no different. We each have our individual jobs to do each day. Colleagues need to help each other when needed if we are going to deliver quality patient care to every patient, every day. 

Mark Cvengros-Edens, BSN, RN. City of Hope Atlanta: I bring a different perspective of working with both male and female patients. Just having a different demeanor and bedside manner being a man can break up the routines of a largely female profession in a positive way for the team and patients.

I think my gender has helped me in some ways. Being the minority as a male in nursing shows off the value and insight men can bring to this profession. I have only had a handful of patients request a female nurse. Admittedly, in a past workplace, I did experience increased discrimination due to my gender. However, because of the numerous opportunities we have in nursing, I found a new position at City of Hope with a better work environment and culture, which has been very rewarding.

Rhone D’Errico, DNP, APRN. Associate Professor of Graduate Programs at Rasmussen University School of Nursing (Bloomington, Minn.): As an experienced nurse, nurse practitioner and nurse educator, I can say without hesitation that the qualities that make for a great nurse are no different between men and women. The unique skills that are needed to be a nurse are a deep desire to be of service to others, a dedication to learning and self-improvement, and a willingness to deal with what can often be unpleasant conditions in order to make things better for those who need our help.

Maximilano Diaz, RN. City of Hope Atlanta: I bring another perspective into the field by having the mindset of a man. When we have male patients, I tend to understand them and how they think. I see their frustrations in asking for help. Most of our male patients tend to want to do things themselves, and I remind and assure them that we are available to help them and don’t mind when they need the help.

Andrew Dubongco, BSN, RN. NYU Langone Hospital (New York City): I think I bring a balance to the nurse team dynamic and can bring some practical perspectives. I’ve had experiences where some emotional distance, expected uniquely from a masculine role, can help defuse tensions, help reassess emotionally charged situations and ease anxieties in the cases of both patients and team members.

The only disadvantage I could think of relates to cultural competence. Patients may interact differently with a male RN [than] with a female RN, for different cultural or religious reasons or taboos.

Lance Edwards, BSN, RN. Houston Methodist West: There are certainly individuals who possess greater physical strength, intelligence and skill than myself, regardless of gender. Maybe what I bring to the team, as a man, is representing the community that we serve within the team.

I don’t feel gender has put me at a disadvantage as a nurse — not in the same way that women often experience disadvantages in male-dominated workplaces. There have been times when patients have not wanted a male nurse to help with certain aspects of patient care that make them feel very vulnerable, but that doesn’t occur very often.

I have been told by both patients and patient families that they had been skeptical of men in nursing and their ability to demonstrate caring and compassion, but I have had the privilege of changing these perceptions. In fact, one such patient family member had notified the hospital that I was “the best nurse they had ever had.”

Anthony Egan, RN. Director of the Clinical Education and Simulation Lab at Adelphi University College of Nursing and Public Health (Garden City, N.Y.): Men and women have different ways of looking at things. If you look at the same problem with the same mindset, you will not find any solutions. To truly solve a problem, you need to look at it from all sides and all views. then you truly solve the problem for everyone.

Joseph Falise, MSN, RN. Director of Nursing, Critical Care, Progressive Care & Dialysis at the University of Miami Health System and Director of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses Board of Directors: The obvious physical advantages to manage some of the necessary duties of a nurse should not be ignored. And, though I am very aware and recognize that female nurses can have similar strengths, I do often hear men being called to help with some of the more physical aspects of the job.

Jeffrey Heist, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer and Manager of Utilization Review/Case Management at the Institute for Orthopaedic Surgery (Lima, Ohio): ​I feel that my ability to interact with the MDs has been more accepted and my opinion has been, at times, taken more seriously than some of my female counterparts. Mostly, it was because I took every opportunity to become very good at what I did and improved my skills at every turn possible. As an ER nurse, men take on the role of being the one who takes on the horribly offensive and combative patients. I was given these patients because “I could handle them.”

When it comes to disadvantages, being a male nurse definitely has affected me. I first came out of nursing school and wanted to go into a mother/baby unit. When I applied, I was told that the nurses did not want a male nurse working in their department. It was the first time that I really felt a delineation between male and female nurses. I also feel that, early in my career, many female nurses were being considered over me for management jobs within the profession.

​Alan Howard, PhD, MSN, RN. Assistant Professor of Nursing at York College of Pennsylvania: I believe there is one unique and essential quality to being a successful male nurse: humility. Humility often runs counter to what society believes men want and need, which is respect. While respect is certainly important, an attitude of humility demonstrates a willingness to listen, to serve, to put others first as appropriate, and to realize that we are no better than anyone else. Humility is the foundation for becoming excellent as a nurse, employee and leader in healthcare.

Dennis Brian Kelly, BSN, RN. Clinical Director of the Emergency Department and Interim Clinical Director of the Observation Unit at Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center (Annapolis, Md.): I have worked with female patients who looked at me and said I would rather have a female nurse. I sat with them, talked and gained their trust. Some of my most cherished patients are those who I had to actively engage to earn their trust. Being a male in this profession takes a person who is willing to step into a situation where you are not readily welcome and automatically trusted and turn those relationships into excellent experiences, for both the patient and the nurse. 

Eric Love, RN. Supervisor of Invasive Cardiology at the Heart & Lung Institute at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center (Atlantic City, N.J.): I think I bring support and accountability. The kind of support that encourages people to push on and succeed. On projects, I try to support my team but let them pave the way and play it out. I think it is important to have equity in something that affects your profession, builds accountability.

As a nurse, I always want to be a patient advocate; they need to have a say every step of the way. That requires some accountability on my part. But that is just my perspective. Others might say I’m always there when something heavy needs to be moved.

When I first started working as a nurse in the emergency department I would get the typical “Are you the doctor?” greeting. But I never took that as a slight that I made the wrong choice or wouldn’t be valued. If anything I think being a man has been an advantage, because a male nurse stands out in most units because there are so few of us. Also, I feel like it is easier to be seen and heard being a male on a unit mostly comprised of females.

David Marshall, DNP, RN. Chief Nursing Executive at Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles): I think diversity, in general, brings balance to the profession. Any professional team functions at a higher level when there are a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

Merrill Mathew, MSN, RN. Director of Patient Care Services at Long Island Jewish (Forest Hills, N.Y.): The view that I bring towards taking care of patients might be more broad. My team compliments me on my temperament and ability to solve problems without getting in the “weeds.” I tend to be more direct but am able to provide an explanation as to how a patient’s care plan has been devised or, when I am with my team, the reason behind changing a certain practice to ensure better outcomes. I believe speaking with confidence and my desire to learn about a subject matter thoroughly and asking questions without being embarrassed has allowed me to collaborate with other members of the healthcare team seamlessly. 

Nicholas McCune, MSN, APRN. Associate Professor at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio): Nursing is a surprisingly physical role. From early in my nursing program, it was often a running joke that the male nurse on the unit is one of the busiest as they are commonly called upon to help turn patients and to be a strong presence for patients who are strong-willed or otherwise require a somewhat authoritative presence. In practice, I can confirm that I am often called on to help my team turn and ambulate patients, and often help to manage physically aggressive patients.

I strongly believe that I am evenly matched against my female colleagues and, outside of my height, weight and authoritative presence, find that I possess no specific traits based on gender that make me excel in nursing. In fact, my gender has significantly helped me in my career as I have largely been met with enthusiasm due to being underrepresented in nursing.

Layne Mistretta, MSN, RN. Corporate Senior Director of Clinical Education and Professional Development in the Department of Nursing at LCMC Health System (New Orleans): I don’t define nursing as a masculine or feminine profession. However, I do realize there are cultural and religious differences, and not all female patients allow for male caregivers, but significant generational differences between the instructors and students sometimes had biased approaches to female patient assignments.

Frank Morisano, MSN, RN. Senior Director of Community Health at Staten Island University Hospital (New York City): About 20 years ago, I applied for a job in labor and delivery. The manager told me I would not get the job because I was a man. I countered that many obstetricians and gynecologists are men, why not registered nurses? I could not convince her, but am happy to say men have broken into most labor and delivery departments.

Kaleb Martorana, RN. Quality and Patient Advocate at City of Hope Phoenix: A male nurse can provide insight and perspectives to male patients. Male patients may have a higher perception of trust or acceptance of a male nurse in comparison to a female nurse. This can be significantly valuable in patient education such as discharge planning, medication education and compliance, or discussing plan of care in conjunction with the physician.  

James Murphy, DNP, RN. Administrative Director of Advanced Practice Nursing at Mount Sinai South Nassau (Oceanside, N.Y.): I bring the ability to work well with most of my colleagues. I have compassion and empathy that is required to be able to see a patient for who they are and as an individual.

Being a man in nursing is not always easy, but I think it gives me some advantages that I can use to benefit my patients and colleagues. For example, I can relate to male patients who may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about their health issues; I can offer them support and empathy. I think being a man also helps me bring some diversity and balance to the nursing team, as I can offer a different perspective and approach to problem-solving and communication.

Dalton Noakes, MN, RN. University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center (Cleveland): I’m not 100 percent sure that there are any qualities that I can owe to “being a man.” I bring lots of great qualities to my team because I am who I am, and this has been shaped by the sum of my lived experiences, not solely because I’m a man. If anything it helps me sometimes because I stand out from the crowd of mostly female coworkers, so I’m easier to remember and recognize by new people on the unit and administrators.

Bryan Overman, BSN, RN-BC. Senior Director of Nursing Professional Practice, Development and Quality at Luminis Health Doctors Community Medical Center (Lanham, Md.): Like any healthcare profession, diversity is the key to ensuring that the quality of care we deliver to patients is maximized. Men can bring different perspectives and see problems, issues and diseases from a different lens. Many times in my career, I’ve had male patients confide in me about things that may make them uncomfortable sharing with women. As an example, I took care of a young man in the ICU who had testicular cancer and his biggest worry was if he would be able to have children again. He told me he felt more comfortable sharing it with me as I might relate to his fears.

Alon Ozols, RN. Assistant Nurse Manager at Northern Westchester Hospital (Mt. Kisco, N.Y.): Occasionally I will be treating a patient who prefers a female over a male. However, this is thankfully becoming a rare observation, probably largely due to the already increasing number of males in the nursing and healthcare ranks.

Stephen Romas, RN. Strong Memorial Hospital (Rochester, N.Y.): I believe that gender or sex does not really change/bring any unique qualities or skills for this job or anything in life. It comes down to the type of person you are at your core. I tend to feel like in my case, I bring qualities of composure, dedication, lifelong learning, coachability and compassion, to name a few. In general, the only disadvantage to being a male nurse comes from being the one who is often asked to refill the heavy water cooler or help turn a particularly heavy patient. But that is all part of good teamwork and done in good fun!

Stanley Waryck, RN. Director of Nursing Services at City of Hope Phoenix: What I bring to nursing as a male, just like every other nurse, is a different perspective. What I bring is highly personal and I don’t feel it can be generalized as “male.” I always look to understand and not see things from a predetermined perspective.