Men make inroads in female-dominated world

Male nurses make up 5% of occ health nurses

The number of men making nursing their career continues to be dwarfed by the number of women in the profession, but data show men are slowly increasing their presence in nursing, including occupational health nursing.

While more male faces, in a field traditionally populated by women, makes for interesting statistics, the reasons for it are not very mysterious, nurses say.

"It doesn't matter what race or sex you are, people want good jobs with good benefits, and occupational health nursing provides a great opportunity for that," says Richard Kowalski, RN, MSA, COHN-S, who came into occupational health nursing 30 years ago, when he was an emergency department nurse with a young family. Kowalski, who spent almost 30 years in occupational health and management with General Motors in Michigan and is now a consultant, will make some small history in April, when he becomes the first male president of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN).

"I don't think it's a gender thing — it's a question of good opportunities," he adds. "When people get more exposure to it, they see the opportunities to grow within different companies."

At the end of 2006, AAOHN data shows, of its total membership of 8,655, 7,879 (91%) are women, and 439, (5%) are men. (Some members did not indicate gender.) Three years earlier, at the end of 2003, total membership was 9,601, of whom 8,697 (90.5%) were women and 445 (4.6%) were men. (See box below for a breakdown by age and gender.)

From 2003 to 2004, 90% of registered nurse (RN) program degree recipients were women; by comparison, 51% of the U.S. population for that period was female.

"Male nurses make up around six percent of all RNs in the United States, and about 5.1 percent of AAOHN membership, so we're right in line with the national numbers," says current AAOHN President Susan Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN.

Additionally, salaries continue to rise in occupational health nursing, and surveys of AAOHN membership indicate a high level of job security. Results of AAOHN's 2006 membership survey reveal that the average salary for AAOHN members is $63,472, with average salaries having increased 3.9% every year since 2001.

Other attractions of an occupational health career, AAOHN members say, include:

More than seven out of 10 members receive dental, major medical, life, prescription drug, long-term disability, and short-term disability insurance;

The typical members have 75% of their health insurance program premium paid by their employers;

Three in four members report receiving a 401(k) retirement plan.1

Men, women enter nursing for same reasons

According to the "Men in Nursing" study findings released in 2005 by the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN), California Institute for Nursing and Healthcare, and Coalition for Nursing Careers in California, men enter the field of nursing for most of the same reasons women do.2

"Men come to nursing for much the same reasons as their female counterparts, primarily to help others and for the growth opportunities the profession offers," the AAMN study concludes. "There were many comments about nursing being a 'calling', not just a profession, as well as numerous comments about being able to 'make a difference.'"

AAMN study respondents (some 500 male nurses) did not mention some of the same reasons for entering nursing that female nurses do, such as the influence of other health care professionals, parental influence, or an early awareness of nursing as a career possibility, a fact that the study authors attribute to men being a minority in nursing and nursing not traditionally considered a "man's job."

"There have been efforts for a while to increase the number of men in nursing, in general. Occupational health nursing is a choice that's attractive to men — and women — for a number of reasons," Randolph points out. "There's a lot of flexibility, opportunities for career advancement, involvement in a team approach and decision-making."


1. American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Compensation and Benefits Study: A Statistical Survey of Job Profiles, Salaries and Benefits, 2006. Available online at, or by calling (800) 241-8014, ext. 0.

2. American Assembly for Men in Nursing, Men in Nursing Study, 2005. Available online at