Recruiting Men to Nursing: The 20 x 20 Campaign

August 1st, 2011


By , BSN, RN

There is a nursing shortage in this country — not big news. Nurses are mostly women — this is also not news. Generally, recruiting nurses and students  to attend nursing school has become a full time job for many in hospitals, colleges and universities across the United States and even around the world. But now, there is a new program aimed specifically at recruiting men into nursing. The 20×20: Choose Nursing campaign is off and running.

Nursing is usually perceived as a female sport, but this has not always been the case — the first nurses were men. A brotherhood in third century Rome provided care during the great plague in Alexandria. Knights during the crusades provided care for their sick and wounded comrades. This trend was the story for centuries, as men fought and men took care of their wounded. Then along came Florence and Clara and many others, and nursing became a woman's realm.

Today, according to the annual survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), men comprise a mere 6.6% of the nursing workforce in the United States. The number of men in baccalaureate and master's degree nursing programs are better, at 11.4% and 9.5% respectively, but still not the numbers you might expect from a field once dominated by men. In fact, men make up only 5-10% of the nursing workforce, worldwide..

Man Enough?

So the challenge is, how do we convince young men that nursing is a career really open to them? Back in 2002, the Oregon Center for Nursing (OCN) came up with a recruitment poster that challenged the gender bias of nursing that read, "Are You Man Enough To Be a Nurse?" Dr. Deborah Burton, Executive Director of the OCN at the time, told Minority Nurse magazine that their mission became one of "let's see if we can find some stereotypically male practicing nurses who look male, act male, and love nursing."

Like every specialty group in nursing, men in the field have their own association. The American Assembly for Men In Nursing (AAMN) has evolved the OCN's recruitment strategy even further. At the 2009 and 2010 national conferences, AAMN attendees focused not only on recruitment and retention of men to the nursing field, but discussed repeatedly their wish to change the image of men in nursing, to the more gender neutral people in nursing.

A New Catchphrase

In 2009, the AAMN planted the seeds of a new recruitment effort by developing a theme focused less on masculinity and more on nursing being a career choice for people with passion. "Do what you love and you'll love what you do," became the recruiting mantra. It is an image of nursing focused on each person's personal interests instead of their gender.

It was with this slogan as a foundation that the AAMN began building a multi-faceted recruiting campaign to increase the number of men drawn to nursing as a career. They developed a plan that would encompass focusing on empathy and caring as personality traits found in everyone, not just women.

Just this past April, in Nursing Management, nurse researchers reaffirmed the AAMN's decision to get away from gender-based recruitment. "Overall, when examining individual key attributes, there were fewer statistically significant differences between perceptions of an ideal career and perceptions of nursing for men than there were for women. This implies that nursing isn't at odds with what men value in a career, but instead that recruitment into the profession continues to be impacted by social context." Their suggestion included a campaign, highlighting diversity in roles, genders, ages, and races to enable a correspondingly diverse population to envision careers in nursing.

20 x 20: Choose Nursing

AAMN rolled out the 20 x 20: Choose Nursing campaign last year at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Future of Nursing Summit in Washington, D.C. The "20 x 20" portion of the name refers to the organization's goal of increasing the number of men in nursing programs across the country to 20% by the year 2020.

Phase One of the campaign kicked off in January of this year with a series of posters featuring real nurses pursuing not just their careers, but their passions, with gusto. One, titled, "Adrenalin Rush: The OperatingRoom Nurse/Mountaineer," stars Patrick Hickey, R.N. B.S.N.,M.S., M.S.N., Ph.D., C.N.O.R, a world-renowned mountaineer who has climbed the seven highest summits in the world, including Mount Everest. He is also a clinical assistant professor of nursing at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Hickey's life story and determination make him a perfect role model for any man considering nursing.

The target audience for the poster program includes school children of all ages, young adults looking for a direction in life, and second career adults. Links on the posters will direct viewers to the AAMN website for more information. By September of this year, AAMN plans to start its social media campaign, including a YouTube channel with video content about men in nursing. They will also build pages on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Also during Phase One, AAMN will make available information about scholarships for men who are interested in pursuing a nursing education. The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation has pledged money in addition to dollars already available through AAMN.

Phase Two of the "20 x 20" campaign kicks off next month and is expected to run through August, 2012. It features work coordinating with other nursing and non-nursing organizations to break down some of the societal barriers that challenge men to pursue nursing. Among the programs available will be supplying a downloadable toolbox for high school guidance counselors, career advisors, AAMN members, and other interested parties to use during recruiting.

Another facet of Phase Two is the encouragement of AAMN members in their local chapters to form speaker panels. Speakers will visit schools and talk about the benefits of nursing as a career choice for men.

Phase Three will get started in September 2012. It is the evaluation phase, and it will last until the project's five-year end-date in August 2017.

The long-term goals for the "20 x 20" campaign include:

  • Fifteen nursing schools with a 20% male enrollment and retention/graduation rates at 90% or higher
  • Ten hospitals with a nursing workforce of at least 20% men and retention rates of at least 90% for three consecutive years
  • Ten long-term care employers with an RN/LPN/LVN nursing workforce of at least 20% men and a retention rate of at least 90% for at least three consecutive years

Everyone has something special to bring to nursing as a career and as a caregiver. As men and women, we approach communication, problem solving, and most other areas of life differently, and taking advantage of that diversity can only promote better, far-reaching nursing care for our communities.


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