Men in Nursing

Male nurses at Samuel Merritt University help recruiting efforts in a female-dominated profession.

Appeared in: ADVANCE for Nurses

By: Elizabeth Valente

Less than 6 percent of the more than 2.1 million RNs working in the U.S. are men, according to the 2004 National Nursing Sample Survey. Two Samuel Merritt University (SMU) nursing students are out to change that rate - and do it in a way that offers support and encouragement to other men thinking about joining the profession.

Leading by Example

In May, BSN graduate Michael Davidson and current BSN student Juner Valencia re-established the Bay Area Chapter of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN), the first men in nursing organization west of the Mississippi. AAMN aims to provide a framework for nurses as a group to meet, discuss and influence factors that affect men as nurses.

Valencia noted one of those factors is the ongoing nursing shortage. Despite California's rise from 50th nationally to 45th in nurses per capita, there is still a need to educate more than 200,000 RNs by 2014.

"Having good mentors is really important in this profession," Valencia said. "This group will serve as a good resource for students and it's a great way for people to network. I want to see our profession grow and the Bay Area chapter is one more step in being able to break down some of the negative stereotype about nursing and men in nursing."

"Although this Bay Area organization is not a new effort and many schools have been recruiting men for years, we want everyone to know the face of nursing is changing," Davidson added. "Men are now approaching nursing colleges seeking job flexibility, career opportunities, high salaries and job security."

Bob Patterson, MSN, RN, administrative director for the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care in Berkeley, has been at both the bedside and in the boardroom in his career. He's seen an increase of men in nursing within the state over the national number, with men making up more than 10 percent of nurses in California.

"California schools of nursing reported that more than 18 percent of the 2007-08 enrollment are men," he said. "That's the highest percentage since the 1900s. We are confident that once word spreads there is a new organization for men in nursing, numbers will continue to increase."

Open Door Policy

Since the first SMU male nurse graduated in 1975, the health sciences institution has continued to increase the number of male students in its nursing programs. In the last 6 years, more than 300 male students have graduated from SMU's BSN and MSN programs.

As a former firefighter/EMT in South Central Los Angeles, Davidson always knew he wanted to work in healthcare, but did not know where to go for questions about the profession. As AAMN acting membership committee chairman, Davidson hopes the Bay Area chapter will help answer many questions about the profession, educate the public about men in nursing and help with recruitment issues.

"Men are these huge untapped resources," Davidson said. "There are a lot of problems with recruitment because it's hard to get men interested and excited about the profession. There are also some institutions that don't go after the male population, which is unfortunate because it's one way to fill this shortage."

Getting the message out is why both Davidson and Valencia are working on a schedule that will allow them and some of the 50 chapter members to go into diverse communities around the Bay Area to talk to local high school students on an informal basis.

"By going out to the communities we can educate and encourage young people from diverse backgrounds to go to college and pursue a career in nursing," Valencia explained. "Being a man and standing in front of a high school crowd and telling them, 'Hey, I am a nurse and I love it,' right there you are serving as a role model and hopefully we are reaching one guy in the class as we do that."

"Although some people may feel a little uncomfortable at first sight of a male nurse, for the most part society is becoming more open-minded and comfortable with men as nurses," Davidson continued. "But I do think we still need to educate the public and fight these stereotypes that nurses are the handmaiden of the doctor and that male nurses are more then just extra muscles."

Patterson agreed. In the 1980s, after receiving his nursing diploma from St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco, he was faced with a few negative aspects of the profession. "At one point I did encounter some discriminatory practices around being a male nurse, especially in the ob/gyn floors and women's health wards," he said. "But despite some of the hurdles, I am happy I chose nursing as a career and I've had tremendous support from female nurses."

To help keep the flow of dialog open and resolve the issues that involve men in nursing, the chapter allows women into the organization. The group openly discusses discriminations and biases that women, including nurses, physicians and patients, interject.

"We are fortunate at Samuel Merritt University that the female students with their male colleagues see each other as just nurses," Valencia said. "A lot of that comes from the University's School of Nursing faculty, who have been a tremendous support. They openly address potential problems, such as when patients might feel uncomfortable about having a male nurse, or raising the issue about nursing salaries."

Recruiting Efforts

Bylaws and marketing materials are currently being developed for the Bay Area chapter. They will be directed toward graduates as well as second-career seekers, many of whom are males. These resources will be shared with college and university recruiters who are being educated not only on the nursing shortage but also on the need for diversity in the profession.

"The best way to recruit more people is first to speak well of nursing as a profession," Davidson said. "Second, urge male student nurses to develop friendships with their female classmates. I've learned so much from the women who are colleagues of mine. The thing to focus on in men and in nursing is that men and women are both nurses."


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