Letter to the Editor by Wilson on The Nursing Shortage: Solutions for the Short and Long Term

The Nursing Shortage: Is This Cycle Different?

August 31, 2001
response by Bruce Wilson to The Nursing Shortage: Solutions for the Short and Long Term by Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN and Jeanette Ives Erickson, RN, MS, CNA (Jan. 31, 2001)
with reply by author

Dear Editor:

Nevidjon and Erickson, in their article "The Nursing Shortage: Solutions for the Short and Long Term" write, "Many reasons explain the continual decrease in enrollment in basic nursing programs. First and foremost is the fact that women have many choices today when selecting a post high school education and career."

However, a variety of career choices for women have been noted almost since the beginning of organized nursing. At the ninth annual convention (June 5-7,1906) of the Nurses Associated Alumnae (later renamed the American Nurses Association) the president, Annie Damer, in her presidential address stated "but now when women teachers, women ministers, and doctors and lawyers, are all successfully entering upon their life's work after a system of preparation different from ours, yet equally equipped for it, while their home life has been controlled by themselves, can we say that our schools are sending out women of greater intelligence or skill, of higher moral character attainment?" (American Nurses Association, 1976, p. 343). This statement suggests women were being prepared in a number of professions back in 1906.

At the twenty-sixth Convention of the National League for Nursing Education (Later renamed the National League for Nursing) Katherine Olmstead, Executive Secretary, Central Council for Nursing Education, reported "we know that twenty-five years ago there were exactly two occupations for women, nursing and teaching. At the last census in 1910 we found that there were three hundred occupations in which women were engaged, and since the war that number has been more than tripled" (Olmstead, 1920/1991, p. 178). This citation, too, indicates women have long had a variety of careers from which to choose, a variety of choices that may pull nurses away from nursing and into other professions, thus aggravating nursing shortages.

Additionally nursing shortages have been aggravated by ignoring a large and important source of potential nursing recruits, namely persons of the male gender. This is in spite of numerous reports that have encouraged a concerted effort to also recruit men into nursing. Back in 1949 the Committee on the Function of Nursing wrote, "the number of potentially competent male nurses is very large and recruitment efforts should therefore be directed at them"(pp. 24-25). It is interesting, and unfortunate, to note that just prior to this study, a very large group of women were paid to go through nursing programs, while men, who were R.N.'s, were drafted into the military, but not permitted to serve as nurses.

In 1970 the National Commission for the Study of Nursing and Nursing Education recommended "...recruitment of men into nursing be fostered through modification of the sex-linked occupational image of the profession by the national and state organizations, and the adoption of specific policies and goals to increase the percentage of males entering nursing preparatory programs by those institutions that offer them" (p. 141).

Even more recently, the Secretary's Commission on Nursing (1988) recommended the "establishment of a national campaign to promote the image of men in nursing and the idea of nursing as an attractive career option for men..." (p. 44). One response to this study was to feature Miss America in Seventeen Magazine.

Please, before nursing destroys itself, stop regretting that nurses today have other career choices, and rather follow the advice of these previous studies that have recommended men be recruited into nursing. Why does nursing keep resisting the recruitment and retention of men in nursing? Making nursing an attractive profession to both men and women can help to alleviate the nursing shortage and prevent us from self-destruction.

Bruce Wilson, PhD, RN, C
Department of Nursing
University of Texas - Pan American


American Nurses Association. (1976). One strong voice: The story of the American Nurses Association. Kansas City, MO: Author.

Committee on the Function of Nursing. (1949). Program for the nursing profession. New York: MacMillan.

National Commission for the Study of Nursing and Nursing Education. (1970). An abstract for action. Jerome Lysaught, Director. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Olmstead, K. (1920/1991). The recruiting of student nurses. Reprinted in N. Birnbach & S. Lewenson (Eds.), First words: Selected addresses from the National League for Nursing 1984 - 1993. New York: National League for Nursing.

Secretary's Commission on Nursing. (1988). Final Report Volume 1. Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Services.