10 Pioneering Male Nurses


June 8th, 2011

In the largely female-dominated field of nursing, men make up only 6 percent of the 2.6 million registered nurses working in the United States. Although it’s somewhat rare to see a male nurse today, that wasn’t always the case hundreds of years ago when men were called upon to heal the sick and save lives on and off the battlefield. Men have played a vital role in shaping and advancing the nursing profession into the respectable field it is today. Here are 10 pioneering male nurses:

  1. Camillus de Lellis: Camillus de Lellis entered the field of healthcare after he struggled with excessive gambling and aggression as a soldier. He became the director of a hospital that once treated him and eventually established his own congregation called the Ministers of the Sick (Camellians). The Camellians tended to the sick, specifically alcoholics and those stricken with the plague, as well as wounded soldiers on the battlefield. St. Camillus created the first ambulance service and was the first person to use the sign of the red cross that is still seen today.
  2. James Derham: James Derham was the first African-American man to practice medicine in the United States. Derham became interested in medicine because he was owned by several doctors. Although never formally taught, Derham began working as a nurse in order to buy his freedom from slavery in 1783. Once freed, he started his own medical practice and specialized in throat disorders and climate-sensitive diseases.
  3. Juan Ciudad: Juan Ciudad, also known as St. John of God, was a saint and important figure in nursing. After serving as a soldier in the Spanish Army, Ciudad became devoted to religion and helping the needy. He became the founder of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God and operated it all by himself for some time. Ciudad was honored for his heroic death, in which he tried to save a boy from drowning.
  4. Walt Whitman: Walt Whitman may be best known for his acclaimed poetry, but the humanist was also a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War. Whitman worked in crowded hospital wards in Washington, such as the Armory Square, the Judiciary Square and the Patent Office, where he kindly wrote letters for injured soldiers and read poetry aloud. Whitman’s experience as a nurse had a significant impact on his life and certainly on his poetry.
  5. St. Alexius: This fifth-century Roman was an influential caretaker for the sick. He was the patron of pilgrims and beggars, devoted to the service of God. St. Alexius later became a patron of the Alexian Brothers ministry’s first chapel, which had small groups of men and women who treated the sick, fed the hungry and buried the dead. The Alexian Brothers healthcare organizations can be found all around the world, where they continue to treat patients through healing ministry and patient care.
  6. Edward Lyon: Edward Lyon made history as the first man to be commissioned in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1955. He was named second lieutenant and broke the mold for all male nurses, who play a very important role in nursing military services.
  7. St. Benedict: St. Benedict, also known as Benedict of Nursia, is the patron saint for Europe and students, as well as dying people, fever, gallstones, kidney disease and inflammatory disease. St. Benedict became the founder of western monasticism and was known for his miracle work. His holiness and humility are still admired to this day, and his message lives on through the many hospitals and care units named after him.
  8. Friar Juan de Mena: Friar Juan de Mena is considered the first nurse to land on what would later become the United States of America. Friar de Mena was a notable Mexican nurse, who administered care to the sick as a lay brother of the Santo Domingo of Mexico. Nearly seventy years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, de Mena and other Spaniards were killed while shipwrecked off the south Texas Coast.
  9. Joe Hogan: Joe Hogan made history when he sued the Mississippi University for Women for denying Hogan admission because of his gender. Hogan was already a registered nurse who was working full time at Golden Triangle Regional Hospital in Columbus, Mississippi, but wanted to earn his bachelor’s degree in nursing from the all-women’s institution because it was the only local college offering this degree. Joe Hogan won his landmark case, and it forever banned gender discrimination at publicly funded schools for nursing.
  10. Brother Gerard: Brother Gerard, also known as Gerard Thom, was the founder of the Knights Hospitaller and the two major Orders of Chivalry that evolved from the group in Jerusalem. The Hospitallers were dedicated to treating sick and wounded patients in hospitals. Over time, the Hospitallers eventually opened their own hospitals and expanded to Europe and Jerusalem. The Hospitaller’s Knights of Malta is the only original military nursing order still operating today.

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