Despite being recognized as one of the best and most in-demand careers, nursing remains a profession dominated by women. Recent data shows men account for just 9.4% of the nursing workforce nationwide. Building on the work of the College of Nursing’s founding dean, Luther Christman, PhD, RN, FAAN, a passionate group of men is working to grow the number of men, and specifically minority men, in the profession and make RUSH College of Nursing the premier destination for nursing education and practice.
In the 1970s, Christman helped establish and expand a national organization for men in nursing in Chicago. Originally called the National Male Nurses Association, the group set out to encourage more men to join the health care workforce as nurses, and together, strengthen health care for all. RUSH was one of the first Colleges of Nursing to establish its own chapter of the Men in Nursing group.
Frank Hicks, PhD, RN, CNE, associate dean for academic programs, has been a professor at RUSH for more than 20 years and has seen the evolution of men’s interest in the nursing profession.
“We've been committed to improving the representation of men in our profession since Luther Christman helped form the group decades ago," says Hicks. "It's been a joy in my career to mentor young men through their academic journeys and see them flourish as alumni of our programs. RUSH truly leads the way for men in nursing."
Revitalizing the RUSH Men in Nursing program
When he came to RUSH in 2013, Aaron Franklin, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, was eager to expand his network and find community with his colleagues and patients. One of the first people he felt connected to was the nurse who hired him, Fred Brown, DNP, RN, CENP. Franklin and Brown bonded in their shared experiences as Black men working in a field largely dominated by White women.
“I moved to Chicago the week I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing,” Franklin recalls. “RUSH was mentioned by one of my college professors as a top hospital in Chicago. I was interviewed by a Black male nurse, Dr. Brown, who I felt connected to right away. Dr. Brown is the reason I came here and the reason I stay here.”
Together, Brown and Franklin worked to revitalize the Men in Nursing program and encourage male students in the College of Nursing. They sought to create a sense of belonging in an academic space and build camaraderie with other men who had similar experiences entering the profession. One of the young men they brough into the program was Deshawn Jones, a current student in the Generalist Entry Master’s program.
Before coming to RUSH, Jones graduated from Missouri University of Science in Technology with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Sciences and pursued a career as a professional athlete in both football and rugby. He was raised on the South side of Chicago and says he always felt RUSH was a special place.
“Growing up, I saw RUSH as the Ivy League of health care in Chicago,” says Jones. “After my career as a professional athlete ended, and with my experience as a patient care assistant in other hospitals, I saw the impact nurses had on patients and decided it was what I wanted to do with my life. I was extremely excited to come to RUSH for nursing school.”
Jones was elected student president of the Men in Nursing group in 2023. Beyond fostering a shared sense of community, the Men in Nursing group is committed to being visible to the RUSH and Chicago communities. Members of the group volunteer at events like the Chicago Marathon and at RUSH events like the Taste of RUSH Community Service Initiative Program, and also travel to the annual American Association of Men in Nursing (AAMN) conference. During the 2022 AAMN conference, Franklin was appointed to serve on the national board of directors. In 2023, RUSH was named among the Best Schools for Men in Nursing.
Michael Kremer, PhD, CRNA, CHSE, FNAP, FAAN, joined the College of Nursing faculty in 1993 and has been a supporter of the Men in Nursing program and mentor of male nursing students throughout his tenure.
“The demand for highly skilled nurses has never been higher," says Kremer. "Encouraging men to join the workforce is vitally important. Men considering a career in nursing should know they have a home at RUSH."
Addressing the nursing shortage
The push to increase men’s representation in nursing not only makes the profession more representative, it also helps improve health outcomes and address the nursing shortage predicted to balloon over the next decade. As baby boomers age, life expectancies increase and nurses experience burnout, the workforce will continue to see an ever-growing need for registered nurses.
“The demand for highly skilled nurses has never been higher. Men considering a career in nursing should know they have a home at RUSH."
“The recruitment of a diverse workforce of men in the nursing profession will help remedy the nursing shortage the nation has already begun to experience and improve health outcomes from the many patients who would benefit from their care,” says Franklin.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing predicts that more than 30,000 master’s- and doctoral- prepared nurses will be needed each year to meet the rising demand for care. More than 300 students graduate from RUSH’s MSN and DNP programs each year.
“As I enter the twilight of my career, watching Aaron, Deshawn, and others become leaders in their own right has become especially gratifying,” says Brown.
Focus on Black men as nurses and patients
Increasing the representation of Black men in nursing is of particular importance to the RUSH Men in Nursing leadership. Black men are statistically unrepresented in nursing, a sad reality that can have negative outcomes both for patients—who, studies show, do better when their health care providers include individuals who look like them—and for Black men working as nurses.
“I had people yell at me, fire me, and call me the worst names imaginable,” says Franklin. “I was there to care for my patients and help them get better, and I’m being asked to leave the room because of who I am. I try to be fun and jovial with my patients, but the negative responses I got because I am a Black man did weigh on me.”
These negative experiences with patients and coworkers can have an impact on mental health, especially among men. Research suggests men experience more stigma in accessing mental health care, and that they are far less likely to access care than women.
“I never saw getting help for my mental health as an option,” says Jones. “I was taught to channel those feelings into my athletics and to be strong no matter what. I still think it’s hard to be open. But knowing Dr. Brown and Dr. Franklin, I felt like I had someone to turn to.”
In spite of the challenges, Jones, Franklin and Brown remain passionate about their role in health care and see nursing as a place where Black men can thrive.
“I can walk into a room with a Black man as my patient and connect in a way no one else can,” says Jones. “By being there, I can make him feel more comfortable, better advocate for him with his care team, make sure he understands why we’re doing what we’re doing, and help him get the care he deserves.”