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Should We Change the Name of the Profession?

By February 3, 2015June 7th, 20233 Comments

I entered the nursing profession in 1983 at the age of twenty and remember all too well how I cringed inside when a well intended friend would introduce me to another as a “male nurse.”

As a young man, being called a “male nurse” felt emasculating and almost hermaphroditic as if I were part male and female.

Would it surprise you to know that I am not alone in these feelings, and that for many young men, they will not even consider entering nursing because of the feminine construct of the title “registered nurse?” (1)

One Million Nurses Needed

Why should the nursing profession consider changing the name from a clearly feminine construct to something more gender neutral?
The short answer…ONE MILLION additional new nurses needed in the next ten years in the U.S. alone!
In order to address this demand for professional nurses, traditionally under-represented demographic groups will need to be aggressively recruited such as:

  • African-Americans who comprise 13.1% of the population but only 5.4% of nurses
  • Hispanics who make up 16.9% of the population but only 3.6% of nurses.
  • But the largest under-represented demographic in nursing by the numbers are men who comprise 49.2% of the population, but only 9.6% are nurses (2).

Remember Gaylord Focker?

There are numerous cultural stereotypes that limit the participation of men that the nursing profession has no control over such as the lingering perceptions that men in nursing are effeminate, homosexual or not smart enough for medical school.
Look no farther than GAYlord Focker, the lead character in the hit comedy Meet the Parents, that repeatedly used these stereotypes to get a few laughs at the expense of men in nursing.

CLICK HERE for an enlightening YouTube on how men in nursing are currently portrayed in media including the movie Meet the Parents.

Power of Words

But there is one barrier to male participation that the nursing profession has power to change. This one barrier is the need to change the feminine construct of the name “nurse” to something that is gender neutral.
Words do have power and carry strong associations.

In one study of 100 male high school students, the number of male students who would consider nursing increased from six to twenty-one when nursing was renamed by the gender neutral title “registered clinician” (2). Though this is only one study with a small sample size, its implications need to be considered.

Knowing that it is not uncommon for adolescent males to struggle with their gender/sexual identity, the feminine construct of the name of the profession is of higher significance to younger male students.
From my anecdotal observations as a nurse educator, the majority of male students tend to be older and entering nursing education as a second career choice, not right out of high school. This is a likely reason for this observation.
Recognizing the implications of this finding, as well as the obvious feminine overtones of the word “nurse,” will nursing leadership be willing to have a crucial conversation and consider a gender inclusive title to remove this barrier to increase male participation?

Examples of Other Name Changes

This is not unthinkable and has been done in other contexts. Professions that were once male dominated have changed their name to be gender-inclusive. Consider the following examples:

  •  When women began to enter the male-dominated occupation of police work the prior title of policeMAN was replaced with the gender-inclusive title of police OFFICER
  • When women began to enter male-dominated occupation of fire, the prior title of fireMAN was replaced with the gender-inclusive title of fire FIGHTER
  • The airline industry changed the name of the overtly feminine title “stewardess” to the inclusive and gender-neutral title of “flight attendant” when men began to enter this female-dominated profession.

I have shared this point in my presentations around the country, with most women faculty sympathetic to my perspective, but some disagree that nursing is a feminine construct and does not need to be changed.
If that is the case, why are men in nursing still typically referred to as a “male nurse” but women are rarely if ever identified as a “female nurse?”

In Closing

Because the majority of women are nurses who see the profession through their feminine lens, most simply take for granted and do not give it a second thought that the current name of the profession may even be a barrier to male participation.
Together we can be advocates for change to be as inclusive as possible as a profession and do whatever is needed to increase both male and ethnic minority participation in the profession to bring needed diversity to nursing but also be proactive to address the impending nursing shortage!

Comment question:
What do you think would be the best gender inclusive name for the nursing profession? Is “registered clinician” a place to start?
Comment below and let the conversation begin!


1. Gorman, D. (2003). A nurse by any other name…Nursing Spectrum, 7(10), 10 [northeast edition.]

2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). (2014). Nursing shortage. Retrieved from

Keith Rischer – Ph.D., RN, CCRN, CEN

As a nurse with over 35 years of experience who remained in practice as an educator, I’ve witnessed the gap between how nursing is taught and how it is practiced, and I decided to do something about it! Read more…

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  • Dougie houser says:

    The word nurse grew out of caring for a baby with breast milk. So as this strengthens the baby, so nursing or aiding the sick would make them stronger. Definitely a feminine term. Most certainly a barrier for men to enter the profession. Whoever heard of a man feeding a baby with a breast? Anyway a name change is in order

  • Hazel says:

    I agree the name nurse should be changed. It’s just too of a feminine word. You’ll never hear a high school boy say he wants to be a nurse because he’ll be made fun of. I even feel the word nurse doesn’t sound professional.

    • Keith Rischer says:

      Thanks for sharing Hazel. Do you have any thoughts to an alternative name that would be gender-neutral that would be more inclusive?