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Percentage of males in nursing tripled over 4 decades, says Census Bureau

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A new Census Bureau study shows that men are overwhelmingly outnumbered in the nursing profession by their female counterparts, but still out-earn them by about $9,600 a year.

Men make up less than 10 percent of U.S. nurses, but on average make about $9,600 more a year than their female counterparts.

That's according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which released a study that showed the proportion of male nurses tripled between 1970 and 2011 – from 2.7 percent of the workforce to 9.6 percent.

But despite the fact that men are overwhelmingly outnumbered by women in the profession, the former are still out-earning the latter: For every dollar male nurses earn, female nurses earn 91 cents.

Nurses have quietly become a central component of a major question among those in the medical field: With the Affordable Care Act's huge expansion of Medicaid looming, medical providers and professionals are pondering who's going to care for all those new patients. There's a major shortage of primary care doctors, and there's widespread agreement that nurses and other mid-level providers are going to be crucial to fulfilling that patient need.

That's part of why nurses see low unemployment rates. Another reason is the aging population, which "has fueled an increasing demand for long-term care and end-of-life services." That's according to the report's author, Liana Christin Landivar, who added in a statement that efforts to "increase the pool of nurses … have included recruiting men into nursing."

Among the Census Bureau's other findings:

  • In 2011, there were 3.5 million employed nurses; 3.2 million (91 percent) were women.
  • On average, male nurses earned $60,700 per year; women earned $51,100.
  • Most registered nurses (64 percent) work in hospitals.
  • Of all employed nurses, 78 percent were registered nurses; 19 percent were licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses; 3 percent were nurse practitioners; and 1 percent were nurse anesthetists.
  • The unemployment rate was lowest among nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists – about 0.8 percent for both. It's a bit higher for registered nurses (1.8 percent) and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses (4.3 percent).
  • Men make up 41 percent of nurse anesthetists; male nurse anesthetists earn more than double the male average for all nursing professions: $162,900 compared to $60,700.

And, in case you were wondering what the difference between those types of nurses are:

Licensed practical nurses: Known as licensed vocational nurses in California and Texas, this is the starting point for many in the nursing profession. They're the providers of "basic bedside care" – they record vital signs, prepare and give injections, monitor patients' states and keep them comfortable. They also collect samples for lab tests and help doctors or registered nurses with tests and procedures.

Registered nurses: An RN's duties are similar to those of a licensed practical nurse, but they've graduated from a nursing program and have passed the national licensing exam.

Nurse practitioners: NPs are registered nurses who have completed graduate-level education and who "are qualified to meet the majority of patients' health-care needs": Among other duties, they take health histories, do physicals, diagnose and treat common health problems, interpret lab results and X-rays, and prescribe and manage medication and therapy.

Nurse anesthetists: Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are a type of nurse practitioner who "provide anesthesia care for patients before, during and after surgical and obstetrical procedures." They keep patients asleep or pain-free during surgery and monitor them closely.

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