Men in Nursing

As their ranks rise, stereotypes crumble

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HealthDay Reporter

SATURDAY, Jan. 31, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The first thing that strikes you about the nine men staring out from the poster is their diversity, not just in their ages and ethnic and racial backgrounds, but in their attire.

One man is dressed in a sport coat and tie. Another is clad in martial arts gear. One has on scrubs, other a white coat. Still another grips a snowboard.

And bold type above and below the photo asks: "Are You Man Enough To Be a Nurse?"

The poster with its no-holds-barred approach is part of an aggressive campaign by the Oregon Center for Nursing, a nonprofit organization devoted to reversing the severe shortage of registered nurses.

Part of the strategy includes recruiting more men into the field that has traditionally been dominated by women. Other groups nationwide, as well as schools of nursing, are pursuing similar paths.

Despite those efforts, the ranks of male nurses remain slim. Just 5.4 percent of the nation's 2.7 million registered nurses are men, according to the March 2000 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. And males account for about 8 percent of students enrolled in four-year college nursing programs.

Meanwhile, the nursing shortage in the United States is nearing crisis proportions.

In 2000, 30 states reported shortages of registered nurses, says the American Association of Colleges of Nurses, citing a federal report. And the shortage is expected to worsen over the next two decades, affecting 44 states and the District of Columbia by the year 2020.

Federal projections also state there will be more than 1 million vacant positions for registered nurses by 2010, due to a growth in demand for nursing care as the population ages and anticipated retirements.

That's why approaches such as the "Are You Man Enough?" campaign are taking on urgency.

"I still haven't figured out what is feminine about nursing," says Terry Misener, dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Portland in Oregon. "It's about caring, and caring with knowledge."

Still, the stereotype that nursing isn't for men persists, says Misener, a registered nurse for 40 years and one of the nine men in the poster. "When you have a profession that is predominately women, when you have young men thinking about it, people will say, 'You are going to be what?'"

"In focus groups with young men [who want to be nurses], they told us the biggest dissuaders were their families saying, 'Why don't you go be a doctor?'"

Part of the problem, Misener says, is that most Americans don't know and fully understand what a registered nurse does. "We saw this [lack of awareness] even with high school counselors who shadowed nurses for a day," he says.

The job requires a range of skills and approaches. For instance, Misener says, a nurse may care for a dying patient one moment, summoning all the compassion and gentleness he or she can muster. Later in the day, a nurse might have to prod a patient with pneumonia to get up and walk to get better. That challenge often demands a tougher stance.

Nursing also offers men -- and women -- a range of job opportunities, from doctors' offices, hospitals and assisted-living facilities, to private industry, schools, universities and state health departments.

"There's a myth that a lot of [male nurses] are in administration. "That's not true," Misener says, adding that many men are in direct patient care.

For many men, nursing represents a career switch, Misener says. "If you look at the largest bulk [of male nurses] they don't come directly from school. That is not the majority. Some have had other lives, such as the military, or being an emergency medical technician, a policeman or a fireman."

Others have gone into nursing after having been laid off from their jobs, Misener adds, and they see it as a stable profession with a decent income. "It's gratifying to listen to these men," he says. "I hear from men who really love being nurses."

And patients are becoming more accepting of men as nurses. Just ask 57-year-old Roland Jemerson.

"I see a lot more men in nursing. The days when I was the only one in my unit are pretty much past," says Jemerson, reflecting on his 22-year career as a registered nurse.

Today, he manages the recovery room of the Portland Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Misener, now 60, worked for a time on a ward of older women patients before his days as a dean. "All of a sudden the lipstick went on. And that was a good thing," he says.

He also spent time working in labor and delivery. "I only had one woman say she would prefer not to have me," Misener says. "She changed her mind when all the other women on the ward told her how good I was."

More information

For more information on the nursing shortage, visit the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. For more on nursing, see the National League for Nursing.

SOURCES: Terry Misener, R.N., Ph.D., dean, School of Nursing, University of Portland, Portland, Ore.; Roland Jemerson, R.N., staff, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Ore.

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