More Men Are Being Educated as Registered Nurses

By Peter McMenamin posted 05-15-2013 15:15


Men Enrolled in Nursing Schools


For the longest while the primary source of detailed nursing data was the HRSA National Sample Surveys of Registered Nurses (NSSRN).  The last two NSSRN final reports showed that 6.6 percent of RNs were male in 2008 compared to 5.8 percent in 2004.  The 2008 report also indicated that there was a continuing gender shift discernable within the survey data.  In 2008 6.2 percent of RNs licensed prior to 2000 were male compared to 9.6 percent of those licensed in 2000 or later.

We learned recently that the gender balance among registered nurses has also continued to shift.  A February 2013 report from the Census Bureau reviewed data from the American Community Survey for 2011 (along with other data from prior decennial Censuses).  That study showed the proportion of male registered nurses in practice has more than tripled since 1970, rising from 2.7 percent to 9.6 percent in 2011.

Because of the enormous difference in the numbers of male and female RNs, this balance will not change very quickly, but it appears that the shift will continue.  Up-to-date data[1] spanning 2000 to 2012 from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) confirm the change continues.  Those data also suggest that the changes may have been become accelerated by the Title VIII funding changes associated with the Nurse Reinvestment Act of 2002. 

The graph below illustrates changes in the number of male students enrolled in various nursing degree programs affiliated with the AACN.  Male enrollment has increased monotonically with only a few exceptions near the beginning of the decade: a decline in male enrollment relative to the prior year in both undergraduate and master’s level programs in 2001 and a decline in doctoral programs in 2003.  Male enrollment in master’s level programs appeared to pause slightly between 2004 and 2005, accelerating thereafter.  (There were 17 fewer schools that reported data to AACN in 2005 compared to 2004, but there was no comparable slowdown in female enrollment.)  Both male and female enrollments exhibited accelerations in growth in 2001-2004.  This coincides with a number of efforts to showcase nursing as a career, such as the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future launched in 2002.  In addition, there was a substantial increase in Title VIII funding for nurse training in 2001, followed by the passage Nurse Reinvestment Act of 2002.




In percentage terms, the trends since the turn of the century have also exhibited increases.  For both undergraduate enrollment and doctoral and post-doc enrollment one observes strong positive trends from 2000 onward.  (r2 > 0.83)  For the undergraduate enrollment the trend has been an increase in the male percentage of 0.3% per year; for the doctoral students the increase has been 0.2% per year.  (If one plots the male enrollment in master’s programs from 2006 onward—after the pause—a comparable strong upward trend can be observed, increasing at 0.25% per year.)  Data from the National League for Nursing (NLN) show the male enrollment percentage in basic RN programs (diploma, ADN, and BSN) increased from 8% in 1991 to 12% in 1995.  NLN next looked at male enrollment in 2003, when the male percentage had dropped to 10%.  It has continued to increase, reaching 16% in 2011 and 2012.



While enrollment doesn’t guarantee graduation, a rising percentage of males enrolled in a program is a leading indicator of subsequent graduations.  Not to mention that falling male enrollment percentages could be expected to foreshadow falling percentages of male graduates.  That was the case from 2000 to 2003.  Since 2004 the male percentage of enrollees in undergraduate baccalaureate programs has been followed by increasing male percentages of graduates of those programs.  (The number of males enrolled continued to increase in 2012, but female enrollment grew at a faster rate that year, so the male enrollment percentage dipped.  We’ll have to wait until additional years of data become available to see whether the male graduation percentage also declined.)



I’d like to acknowledge help from two important individuals and their organizations.  The long term data on AACN programs were made available by Di Fang, Ph.D., the Director of Research & Data Services for AACN.  Kathy Kaufman, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist for Public Policy from the National League for Nursing (NLN) also contributed summary time series data and recent cross sectional data that could be aligned with the AACN data for 2012.  (For more information, readers can consult the respective association websites.  Selected AACN data tables are available for sale online.  Additional NLN data can be found in the NLN DataView section.)

The schools included from the two organizations may not be identical and there may have been some differences in survey timing.  For 2012 the NLN data on the percentages of male enrollees are slightly higher than the AACN data, but definitely in the same ballpark.  For example, with respect to BSN programs NLN reported 13% v 12.5% from AACN; for RN to BSN programs it was 11% v 9.7%; master’s programs: 11% v 10.3%.  The NLN data also give a snapshot of results from diploma programs and associate degree programs, both at 16% for 2012.  These data suggest that males are a greater percentage of the enrollees of those programs than observed for the baccalaureate programs.  NCLEX data on those that passed the exam show that first time diploma and ADN program graduates in 2012 were 58% of the total.  This should imply that the male percentages of graduates and for all registered nurses in practice will continue to increase in the near term. 



[1] The most recent 2012 data derive from Fang, D., Li, Y., Bednash, G.D. (2013) 2012-2013 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing. Washington, DC:  American Association of Colleges of Nursing.