Is Nursing a STEM Major? (+Arguments & Case Studies)

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Countless university majors fall under the umbrella of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 

It might seem obvious that nursing would be one of them, being a science-focused, mathematics-based field involving frequent interaction with cutting-edge technology.

However, it’s not that simple. STEM is a loosely defined term, and there’s an ongoing debate about whether nursing (or even medicine in general) falls within it.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the major points of this debate and the reason STEM has so many different definitions. To be exact, we’ll cover:

  • Whether nursing counts as a STEM major in most cases
  • Arguments for including nursing in STEM
  • Arguments against including nursing in STEM
  • The impacts of classifying nursing as a STEM subject.

Let’s take a look!

A nursing student with books in hand

Is Nursing a STEM Major?

No, nursing isn’t usually considered a STEM major –especially by certain government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. However, other bodies like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics view nursing as a STEM major. This reflects an ongoing debate on whether nursing should be classified as a STEM major.

Generally, STEM relates to the classic “innovation” fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

All universities define STEM fields differently, but almost all include classics like biochemistry, civil engineering, computer science, physics, and statistics within their bubble.

Originally, STEM was defined for the purpose of defining career paths that play central roles in generating new industries and employment. The focus was on jobs that would further the position of the United States within the global marketplace of innovation and progress.

This means that even though you could easily argue mathematics, science, and technology are all important parts of a nurse’s daily work, nursing was not included in the definition of STEM majors.

Now, more adventurous definitions of STEM are being explored, both in the US and abroad. 

New acronyms like STEAM (with A being Arts) and STEMM (with the second M being medicine) are being utilized in an attempt to expand the benefits of being a STEM field to more disciplines.

Arguments Against Nursing as a STEM Major

The main reason nursing is not considered a STEM major in many US organizations and universities is because of that original definition of STEM.

  • This definition posits that STEM fields are those that contribute greatly to the development and economic growth of the nation as a whole. Nursing doesn’t do this. It’s not based on money-earning innovations through research, instead being a humanities field dedicated to caring for and supporting existing society.
  • It could be argued that supporting the field of nursing as STEM won’t bring huge economic growth or leaps in technology in the same way that investing in mechanical engineering will. It’s an applied field, sometimes being described as a “jack of all trades, master of none”.
  • In many cases, medicine as a whole is excluded unless it is research-focused. However, medical doctorates are much more commonly included in STEM classifications than nursing.

Arguments for Nursing as a STEM Major

One of the main arguments for nursing being included in STEM is its frequent interactions with science, mathematics, and technology.

  • Nurses are constantly utilizing science, both in their studies and work. To become a registered nurse, you must pass classes in chemistry, physics, biology, microbiology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, and social sciences. Nurses also use mathematics frequently when applying pharmacology. It’s crucial to deliver correct medication to patients consistently.

    These topics would all clearly be considered part of STEM in most other paths, but in nursing are discounted.
  • Finally, nurses are constantly interacting with brand-new, groundbreaking technology in their work. Medicine is a major field of innovation, with new tech being introduced constantly and implemented in hospitals.
  • Many argue that because the three integral parts of STEM — science, math, and technology — are so interlinked with nursing, the field should absolutely be covered under the STEM umbrella.
  • Additionally, in its original definition, STEM puts a heavy emphasis on learning, inquiry, logical thinking, and collaboration — all things that are used constantly by nurses in their field. Some people argue that the original, capital-focused definition of STEM is inherently flawed, and that economic growth shouldn’t be the only consideration when assigning worth to a field of study

    Nursing is essential to the functioning of our society, even if it doesn’t directly produce huge technological leaps or economic growth.

It’s often theorized that a major reason nursing hasn’t been accepted into STEM is because of its history as a highly female-dominated field

Though men have been caring for patients for millennia, they weren’t allowed to be officially recognized as nurses in the US until 1919. Even after this point, nursing was considered a “woman’s job” — women being considered naturally caring, gentle, and nurturing. 

The field is still fighting this stigma of feminization and dismissal. Because nursing was seen as feminine throughout history, it’s long been denied any of the respect or esteem of similar, male-centric medical professions.

By establishing nursing as a STEM field, it would be positioned alongside long-respected fields like engineering and information technology — clearly defining its worth.

This would afford nurses the respect that’s long been fought for, and would also encourage support of the nursing field in the form of funding, scholarships, and resources that have long been undersupplied.

With nursing shortages looming in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the US is desperate for new qualified nurses.

Providing nursing schools with STEM levels of funding and support would encourage applicants and facilitate the training of more (and better-educated) nurses. 

This could help curb the shortage of registered nurses and support those currently in the field struggling to keep up with demanding hours due to understaffed hospitals.

Universities and Organizations’ Classifications of Nursing as a STEM Major

Government Organizations

Whether nursing is classified as STEM varies greatly between organizations, even within the US government.

For instance, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics classifies nursing as STEM and STEM adjacent. This means nurses are represented in national surveys of STEM professionals, alongside engineers, doctors, and scientists.

However, the Department of Commerce’s Economic and Statistics Administration does not class nursing as a STEM profession.

Especially troubling is the fact that neither ICE nor the Department of Homeland Security consider nursing a STEM field, meaning non-citizen nurses are not eligible for visa extensions on the basis of working in STEM jobs.

This is definitely a case where including nursing as STEM would be for the greater benefit of the nation.

In a time when nurses are in dire shortage, we shouldn’t be turning away nurses willing to work in the US. They are an essential support of our society and not something any of us can live without.


Few universities have an official statement about nursing and its classification, or lack thereof, as a STEM major. Whether it’s included in the STEM umbrella varies drastically between colleges.

For example, often considered one of the best nursing schools in the country, the University of Pennsylvania does classify nursing as a STEM degree. The University of Flint-Michigan, another top nursing school, also does.

However, Ohio State University, the University of Washington, and New York University do not include nursing in their lists of STEM pathways.

This may seem inconsequential, however, many universities offer extra support and resources to their STEM courses, as well as receiving extra funding from the government. Often, there are scholarships available only for use in STEM courses.

What are the Impacts of Classifying Nursing as a STEM Major?

If nursing were classified as a STEM field, it’s forecasted that we would see a significant increase in students pursuing degrees in nursing, and thus an increase in qualified nurses entering the workforce.

This is for a few reasons.

Fields classified as STEM are automatically afforded a greater level of respect, reverence, and funding than those that aren’t. 

STEM professionals receive higher salaries and a greater level of respect from their colleagues. These are all attractive benefits of potential nursing students and could encourage them to pursue the field.

It would also mean better funding for nursing courses and more scholarships provided to nursing students since there is much greater financial support available for STEM fields. 

As an example, in 2018, $279 million was allocated to STEM in the form of discretionary grant funds.

The government has countless initiatives with the goal of increasing STEM students across the country. Extending these benefits to nursing would absolutely lead to a much greater number of qualified nurses entering the workforce.

As we touched on before, nursing being considered a STEM field would also increase the number of overseas nurses immigrating and staying in the US, since obtaining visas and citizenship would be easier for them.

In a time when we’re desperate for nurses, especially as COVID continues to rampage our hospitals, this would be a huge boon.

It should also be noted that STEM fields are massively dominated by men, with women only making up around 28% of STEM occupations. There are many initiatives created with the intention of getting more women into STEM fields, especially those disadvantaged by class, race, or disability. 

In contrast, nursing is around 85% women, and historically has been considered a female-led career path.

By including nursing, a historically women-led profession, in STEM, it would not only offset the male-dominated statistics of the present day but may also encourage more women to pursue other STEM careers. 

If nursing is established as a respected, official STEM subject, it may make the idea of stepping into such a male-dominated world less daunting for potential female STEM students.

Ultimately, the best argument for including nursing within the umbrella of STEM is that we simply need more nurses.

The field is integral to the success and quality of life of our society, providing a service that every person in the US will need at some point in their lives. 

For decades, we’ve been dismissing and outright neglecting this crucial support. In the wake of COVID, supporting our nurses and encouraging more students to become registered nurses is crucial.


Nursing is a highly challenging, technical, and varied field that requires a host of skills from within STEM. Without skilled nurses, the scientists and engineers of our society wouldn’t have been able to establish the US as the global leader they have.

By including nursing in STEM, and providing it the same support as is provided to other STEM fields, we can strengthen this backbone of our society, and thus improve our economic performance overall.

Ideally, STEM will be better defined at a national level, with nursing and medicine as a whole included. Other countries, such as the UK, have already begun this initiative and seen excellent results.

Though nursing may not provide direct economic growth to the nation in the same way as something like electrical engineering, it is an essential part of our economy and stability as a whole

It should be respected as this integral piece of our society, and given its place alongside other STEM fields.


Does healthcare fall under STEM?

In many cases, no. Healthcare fields also suffer from the same fate as nursing — many agencies don’t recognize healthcare careers as STEM majors, including general practitioners, surgeons, and more. 

There are only a select few fields that are considered STEM, such as medical technology and research-heavy healthcare careers like virology.

What science does nursing fall under?

A degree in nursing requires studying a great number of scientific disciplines, including physiology, psychology, biology, chemistry, microbiology, anatomy, and pharmacology. 

It also includes higher-level mathematics like advanced statistics. Understanding the scientific process and concepts like anatomy are very important parts of nursing.

How is STEM involved in nursing?

Nursing involves many scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, microbiology, anatomy, and microbiology. An understanding of the scientific process and logical thinking is essential to a nurse. 

They also need to comprehend high-level mathematics to successfully administer medication. Additionally, nurses are constantly interacting with cutting-edge medical technology in their work.

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