Slowly but steadily, more men are choosing nursing careers

UC College of Nursing follows a national trend

Jack Patterson hopes to become a neurotrauma nurse.

This summer, the University of Cincinnati senior started a co-op experience in this field at Cincinnati Children’s and is pretty excited about his prospects. He will work full time during the summer before complementing those real-world experiences with classes in the fall.

Patterson, a 21-year-old native of Lebanon, Ohio, had a strong role model for the nursing profession growing up. His mother worked as an ICU nurse in the ’90s at hospitals in New Jersey and South Carolina and at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, before taking time off to raise a family. She now teaches pre-nursing courses to high school students.

One of six children (four girls and two boys), Patterson leaned into science classes as a high school student by taking an athletic training class and electives in anatomy and physiology. “I was interested in anything that gave me a taste of what it would be like to work in healthcare,” explains Patterson.

He applied for nursing programs at the University of Toledo, Ohio State University, UC and Miami University before deciding on Cincinnati.

“I was accepted into Toledo’s honors program, and I was originally going to go there since my two older siblings went there as well,” explains Patterson. “But talking to my counselor, she said if you get into the direct admission program at UC nursing, you kind of have to go there. She said once you graduate, you will have a job. At the end of the day, isn’t that what you are going to college for, to get that job?”

“Once I got into UC, it was settled, but it was funny because we lived 40 minutes from here and I was not familiar with Cincinnati at all,” says Patterson.

Jack Patterson, a senior in the College of Nursing, served as president of the student group, Men in Nursing. Working in the sim lab.

Robin Wagner, associate professor and director of the skills and simulation lab in the UC College of Nursing, assists Jack Patterson during a simulation exercise. Photo by Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand.

'Men in Nursing isn't just a boys' club'

Patterson says he never bought into the notion that men in nursing were an anomaly.

“It was something that didn’t really occur to me until I heard it from other people — and that people still thought that about men in nursing today,” he says.

As a patient care assistant at Cincinnati Children’s, he helps with bathing, grooming, feeding and monitoring patients’ vitals. He was previously a patient escort, taking patients to new rooms, to tests and to discharge.

The American Nursing Association (ANA) reports that male nurses comprised about 12% of the national nursing force as of 2022. Despite a consistent upward trend over the last 20 years in the percentage of male nurses, representation has stalled there.

Demographics at UC are similar. Last year, men accounted for 12.2% of the 2,727 undergraduate and graduate students in the UC College of Nursing. The college was recognized in 2021 by the American Association of Men in Nursing as being among the best for recruiting, retaining and graduating male students.

Between religious orders preparing monks to serve as caregivers and military organizations training soldiers in combat medicine, the nursing profession historically enjoyed significant male representation, explains the ANA. That presence dropped around the American Civil War, as men were called to military service and well-trained women stepped in to serve as nurses, reshaping the field in a way that would stick for over a century. The ANA reports that from then until the 1970s, the number of men in nursing continued to decline.

Patterson says the first student organization he joined was the UC chapter of the American Association for Men in Nursing, a service-oriented organization committed to the education of the male role in the nursing profession. The group routinely meets to discuss and influence factors that affect men in nursing. Patterson became the group’s treasurer and had a great mentor in the organization’s president at the time: Tabitha Robinson, now a UC alumna and practicing nurse.

“I had friends ask me all the time why is a woman the president of Men in Nursing — my attitude, well, what’s your question?” says Patterson. “Any student organization on campus has to be open for everybody. Beyond that, Men in Nursing isn’t just a boys’ club. It is a place for you to educate yourself on how to become a better leader in nursing, and as a man in nursing, understand the differences between men and women in nursing and try to diversify the nursing field and understand men’s health.

“Anybody can do all of these things, and it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman,” says Patterson. 

University of Cincinnati College of Nursing Accelerated students enjoyed their White Coat Ceremony in Kresge Auditorium at Care Crawley. UC/Joseph Fuqua II

A past white coat ceremony celebrating students entering their nursing training in Kresge Hall on UC's medical campus. Photo by Joe Fuqua.

Recognizing privilege and being an ally

Patterson recently finished his yearlong term as president of Men in Nursing at UC.

“UC’s chapter is pretty small. It used to be a bit bigger,” says Patterson. “It has kind of experienced a decline in the last few years, with lower attendance and less funding for events.” 

As president, Patterson asked members of the organization to consider some hard truths. “I said in my speech as president that I really wanted to educate members to use the privilege that they are already given,” explains Patterson. “As a man in the nursing field, in some cases, they get more respect, which I still don’t understand.

“I’ve seen it myself at Children’s. I work there as a patient care assistant, and I’ve seen patients request a male nurse, and I ask why. It was like, it seems they would know more, some patients would offer,” says Patterson. “I tried to educate freshmen and sophomores, and you will run into stuff like that. It’s your job to advocate for your peers and use the abilities you have for the good of others.”

Patterson says the student association also discussed the pay gap that favors men over women in nursing.

“Should we be like, well, great for us?” asks Patterson. “No, you should talk to your managers. Ask what is the reason they are doing the same amount of work as me — they deserve to be paid reasonably and equitably.”

Headshot of Interim Nursing Dean Gordon Gillespie

Interim Nursing Dean Gordon Gillespie

The ANA reports that it’s often easier for men to get promotions and make their way into the highest-earning specialties than it is for women. Currently, men are overrepresented in the highest paid specialties, compared to their overall numbers in the nursing population.

On average, nurses across specializations earned a median salary of $81,220 in 2022, according to the American Nurses Association. Some specializations earn much more, with male nurse anesthetists, for example, earning more than $207,934 per year on average.

“I had conversations with my mom, who has worked in nursing since the ’90s, and she had a viewpoint of, ‘Look, it’s gotten better,’ “ says Patterson. “And I was like, it’s fantastic. It's gotten better that the gap has decreased, but there is still a lot of work to do.”

Patterson and his vice president, Gabby Cawthon, now a UC alumna and nurse at UC Medical Center, held monthly meetings and discussed topics affecting men and women in nursing.

“If you, a man, become an OBGYN nurse, you would run into a few more obstacles,” says Patterson. “I tried to show median incomes for men and women, and I had my vice president Gabby Cawthon talk about experiences she and I both had in the hospital.”

Interim College of Nursing Dean Gordon Gillespie said more students like Patterson are needed in the nursing profession.

“Jack is an impressive human being and an exemplary model of men in nursing,” explains Gillespie. “Nursing as a profession is primarily (populated) by women. So we need more men in the profession who not only represent gender diversity, but who also are committed to being an advocate for overall diversity in the workforce. Jack’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the college is evident, and I think he will be a great champion for nurses and our patients.”

Jack Patterson, a senior in the College of Nursing, served as president of the student group, Men in Nursing. Working in the sim lab.

Jack Patterson shown in the UC College of Nursing. Photo by Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand.

Finding a place to thrive on campus

During a recent Torch of Excellence Nursing Award ceremony, Patterson was honored to be given a chance to offer a student testimonial about his journey into nursing.

He spoke of wondering whether he would fit in at UC. Patterson is an openly gay man in a field heavily staffed by women, and he worried that female students wouldn’t like him because of his gender and that men, many of whom were straight, would not be comfortable because of his sexual orientation.

Instead, he made connections, not only with the Men in Nursing organization, but by working with the UC Student Government Association as a senator for the College of Nursing Tribunal and reaching out to other organizations in nursing, such as AMBITION, which stands for Advising Minorities by Inspiring & Transforming them into Outstanding Nurses.

AMBITION works to improve diversity through a mentoring system, led by a student executive board and faculty advisors. Patterson says members of the group voiced problems with bias, including microaggressions and how some professors in the College of Nursing were interacting with students of color. They hope the nursing population can be more reflective of the community it might serve, and Patterson was entirely supportive of their goals.

“They wanted UC to look more to lower-income populations and reach out to those high schools and areas more because there was a disproportionate number of higher-income students being recruited to the College of Nursing,” explains Patterson.

“They said there are a lot of students who have the grades and scores to join the College of Nursing, but they don’t know the opportunities they could have,” he adds. “They were pointing out that you look at the population of Cincinnati and you have a disproportionate number of white students in the College of Nursing as compared to the Black population in Cincinnati.”

Patterson says living in Cincinnati also offers perspective about serving diverse populations.

“In Cincinnati, you see homeless people a lot living on the side of the street,” says Patterson. “Growing up, it was like, what did they do to get themselves to this point? Now I have a new perspective living in Cincinnati and becoming a nurse. My new sense is what were they given, what tools were they given, what held them back? Clearly they were not given the same resources as I was given, and that has nothing to do with them or their character.”

Choosing UC — and Cincinnati — is something he would recommend to high school students interested in nursing.

“I would say I have definitely been given the tools to succeed,” says Patterson. “As I said earlier, the goal at the end of the day is going to college to get an education to build a foundation for a career, and UC does that wonderfully. They give you opportunity and they give you tools.”

Featured top image of Jack Patterson in the UC College of Nursing by Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand.

Exterior of Procter Hall, College of Nursing

Procter Hall is the home of the UC College of Nursing. Photo by Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand.

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