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Men In Nursing


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Posted: 11/26/2001

Despite spiraling salaries, growing prestige and plenty of excitement, nursing, for men, does not top the list of career choices.

Just when it seemed as though negative stereotypes for men in nursing were a thing of the past, along came “Meet the Parents.” In the movie, Ben Stiller’s character is roundly ridiculed by his girlfriend’s doctor-filled family when it’s discovered that he’s…a nurse.

As the film suggests, nursing still just isn’t much of a guy thing. Here at Hopkins, men make up only 7 percent of all 1579 nurses employed by the Department of Nursing (and 5.9 percent of the R.N. workforce nationwide.) Yet almost without exception, these real-life practitioners report great job satisfaction. They say they make good salaries that are getting better all the time. Many are raising their children with the help of a nurse’s flexible schedule. They say they’ve been embraced as equal colleagues and that their patients are accepting. “Ten years ago,” says Ken Norris, of the Neuro Critical Care Unit, “I was ‘the male nurse.’ Now I’m just ‘the nurse.’”

With it all, men remain a largely untapped resource, an important piece in the complicated puzzle that is today’s critical nursing shortage. Part of the problem is simply the “n” word. “Nurse,” says Karen Haller, vice president for nursing, “is a feminine word that comes with associations that are off-putting to many men. Where women have embraced men’s traditional roles, men haven’t embraced women’s. We can argue about whether that’s right or wrong, but it just is, and that’s affected us.”

Some of that, Haller hopes, soon will change. “We’ve really over-represented men in our TV and radio campaigns, because we wanted people to know that men practice here and are welcome here.” What’s more, nurse recruiters now have a man—Tom Urbanski, formerly of child psychiatry— in their midst. And the “m” word is emerging as a priority on the Maryland Statewide Commission on the Crisis in Nursing. “It’s worth finding out what attracts men to the field,” says commission member Vicki Navarro, director of nursing at the Wilmer Eye Institute. “We need to know what works for them.”

Edge of illness and injury

What works for sure is critical care. Nearly one quarter of all R.N.s in emergency medicine are men, and that’s enough, says veteran emergency medicine nurse Tom Galloway, to turn the traditional equations upside down. Galloway recalls shifts in the ER when all the doctors were women and all the nurses were men.

Critical care nursing is tough, fast-paced and not for the faint-hearted. New grad Kevin McDonald was fresh from Penn State with a newly minted B.S.N when he arrived on the Cardiac Surgical ICU in July 2000. “It’s been quite a trip,” McDonald says, looking back at all he’s learned. “The acuity of the patients is high; you really have to have a stomach for it.”

New grads like McDonald have discovered nursing’s spiraling salary levels, which at Hopkins start at between 42-45K with just a two-year degree. For most, this is news. “Until we get that message out there,” says Haller, “we’re not going to attract men who see themselves as the key breadwinner in the family.”

Psyched for Psych

What’s remarkable about Meyer 4’s Chris Boyle is that throughout his 15-year career, he’s been able to find all the variety and satisfaction he’s ever needed without ever leaving the floor. “At every point, whenever I wanted something new, an opportunity would always open up.” When a day hospital was launched on the unit, Boyle and another nurse took over. Now, he’s the nurse manager of several psychiatric units, supervising about 30 R.N.s and 15 other care-givers.

In psychiatry, 15 percent of the R.N.s are men. What’s the attraction? It’s non- invasive, some say. It’s unpredictable, say others. It allows the nurse a leading role, all agree. “In psych,” says Boyle, “you really are a part of the way decisions are made.”

Few Misconceptions

For three years, longtime psych nurse Gary Dunn, a graduate of Hopkins’ School of Nursing, led a monthly support group for male students at the School. Dunn discovered that the men missed having a peer group and role models. Some said their families and friends saw nursing as a stepping-stone to becoming a doctor.

New grads today report few misconceptions among friends and families. “Friends sometimes have fun about it,” says Justin Bishop, a new graduate on the NCCU, “but not any differently than with others and their jobs. A lot of my friends seem to feel lost or worthless in their jobs. What I bring away from the NCCU is intangible and indescribable, but it sure beats the nine-to-five illusion of comfort that many have.”

“I have friends who are making more money,” adds critical care nurse McDonald, “but when I compare my average day to theirs, mine is more exciting and challenging. And when I describe the sort of things I do every day, they are awestruck.”

He can’t help but wonder why more men are not attracted to the field. That’s the question that has long perplexed Ken Norris, of the NCCU. “What’s holding them back?” he wonders. “Where are the missing men in nursing?”