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I had a discussion with a nursing friend (male nurse) and he said that he wouldn't be a nurse if he had the chance again due to often being asked to do things no other nurse wants (like getting the undesirable patients, doing the dirtier/nastier work, etc). He made an observation that I can't find any data on - in the past, men may have been more likely to be nurses because all jobs sucked in the past, such as dangerous farming or mining (much more dangerous than today). Relatively speaking, his point was nursing wasn't as bad comparatively in those times, thus more men would have been likely to do it.

In the United States, 92% of nurses are female, but I can't seem to find any data about male nursing 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago, even though nursing has been around a while. Is there any historic data of gender and nursing from 50-100 years ago as a comparative point?

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    Modern medicine in any meaningful sense of the term originates in the confluence of the innovations pioneered by Florence Nightingale, Sir William Osler, and Dominique Jean Larrey. I suggest you begin your research there. – Pieter Geerkens Mar 13 '18 at 20:29
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    The term 'nurse' comes from the occupation 'wet-nurse', and I'd be very surprised if that wasn't female dominated... – Giter Mar 13 '18 at 20:55
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    Also, a quick look at Wikipedia's history of nursing would show that nursing has pretty much always been a mostly female profession, due to nurses often being nuns, wet-nurses, and midwives. – Giter Mar 13 '18 at 20:59
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    I'm in the UK but have experience of US nursing. They told me it was very underpaid, and from my own observation very undervalued also. Is it also possible that low paid work drew women as it often does, and men couldnt take it as a first job because it didnt pay enough? – bigbadmouse Mar 14 '18 at 8:52
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    Medieval equivalents of nurses can be nuns and monks from monasteries. Actually there were several orders that were very active on healthcare. Also, many surgical and war related medical practices was done by barbers and similar folks, so depending what you call a nurse, you can find heavily male dominated institutions, too – Greg Mar 15 '18 at 15:30
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Modern nursing came to being during the Crimean war, and was a 100% female thing for all practical intents at the time.

US census might have data on job occupation by sex - I haven't checked - as might its UK, French, and German equivalents. But intuitively your friend is incorrect: until a few decades ago, doctors were nearly always men and nurses were nearly always women.

  • With so many wars during the life of nursing, I agree that up to this point the profession would probably be much more female and I doubt we've ever seen many males nurses. It will be interesting to see the nursing breakdown if we ever enter a long period of peace and if males enter the profession at a higher rate. – Ms Jackson Mar 14 '18 at 20:38
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    @MsJackson: Indeed. I hope to see that in my lifetime, in point of fact. But I'm not optimistic considering the way the US, of all places, seems to be quickly becoming the world's most dangerous threat to peace since WW1. – Denis de Bernardy Mar 14 '18 at 23:49

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