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The Catalyst

Nurse attracted to profession despite being minority

By Dawn Brazell
Public Relations

Luc Gagné, who has been a nurse 36 years, said he feels he’s a nurse everywhere he goes, not just at work. To see a video, visit MUSC News Center - www.musc.edu/pr/newscenter/2013/gagne.html. Photos by Sarah Pack, Public Relations

Doctors crowd into the room of a patient in the medical surgical ICU in Ashley River Tower, where the mood hangs heavy. They monitor a patient’s seizure as a nurse stands by the packed doorway, trying to push a cardiac monitoring cart through the sea of white coats.

“I can’t get in there right now,” she said, turning for guidance to charge nurse Luc Gagné, R.N.

He waves reassuringly, a picture of calm. Getting gowned up, he jokes that he’ll weasel his way in, which he does in short order, the doctors parting for him like the Red Sea. Quickly connecting the patient to monitors, he coordinates with other team members to determine what needs to be done. Then he is down the hallway, in a blur, wheeling the patient to an elevator to go up to a surgical floor.

It’s not his patient, but as charge nurse, Gagné, 56, is used to taking the lead.

Though the number of male nurses is on the rise, Gagné entered the field at a time when it wasn’t the norm. Gender aside, some people are just born nurses. Gagné, who has been in this field 36 years, is one of them.

Known to have the energy of 10 people, Gagné is praised by fellow nurses who say they know he will be there for them if they need help. Coworker Dana McCarthy, R.N., said she enjoys working with him and wishes there were more male nurses on the floor. Colleague Alyssa Beyl, R.N., agrees. “A male personality and perspective can bring a better balance to a floor that has mostly female nurses,” Beyl said.

His spunky nature catches some people by surprise given his 5-foot 6-inch stature and exotic French-Canadian accent. Gagné, a ballroom dancer and figure skater, is known for being a “character,” a description that makes him grin.

“I don’t know what they mean really by that,” he said, feigning innocence. “I’m very loud when I speak, so I’m heard – I’m heard from far. I like to bring a lot of humor around the work. The work is stressful enough, but people forget about that, and they get so focused that they don’t hear anything – they don’t see anything else. I’ve learned over the years to add that humor component to my work.”

McCarthy said Gagné’s personality lightens the mood and his years of experience prove invaluable. She recalls a bariatric patient who was reluctant to get active. “He told him to get up and get moving - that he was not going to get any better lying in bed.”

Male nurses are part of what’s changing the image of the profession, a positive trend that McCarthy thinks would be happening anyway, but that male nurses are helping to accelerate. Nurses have more autonomy and are expected to do more critical thinking in the care of patients. “Now we have our own voices and our own positions. We don’t just follow doctors around anymore with clipboards. Doctors listen to us more now.”

Male nurses offer more diversity and a greater range of available candidates, such as Gagné, who represents some of the best in the field, she said, adding that men in nursing seem to be shaping the profession in a good way. “They do bring us more respect – it’s sad to say, but it’s still a man’s world.”

Research shows male nurse are helping to raise salaries faster. If that’s the case, McCarthy said, “Bring it."

Taking the plunge

Gagné, who has been at MUSC since Aug. 1997, has worked in a wide range of departments, but like many other male nurses, he loves critical care.
Hailing from the province of Québec, Canada, Gagné was drawn to the field of nursing through a relative who seemed to really enjoy the work and who traveled to exotic, fun places. Not many men were doing nursing at the time, but it didn’t stop Gagné.

Gagne uses dancing and figure skating as healthy outlets. Photo provided

He took the plunge into nursing, even though his first two placements would have been challenging, even for a seasoned nurse. Enrolled in a federal Canadian program established to allow French people to go West to Saskatchewan, he served in a very small community hospital, close to Indian reserves, where he stumbled through trying to better his English. He then went to northern Quebec to work with Inuits where there were no doctors, and just two nurses working 24/7 shifts. The population was demanding in terms of their needs and expectations, and he had a crash course in culture clashes.

“It opens minds. If you come in and you’re really narrow–minded, that’s not going to work.”

The experiences shaped him in a profound way, he said. After five years, Gagné returned to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing, married and decided to take an international position, working in Saudi Arabia for 13 months. Later, he would go on to accept jobs in West Palm Beach and Pahokee, Fla., before stints in New Hampshire and Vermont.

To escape the cold winters, his family was glad to come to Charleston. He has been at MUSC for 16 years in a variety of positions, currently serving at the medical surgical intensive care unit at Ashley River Tower.

He is glad to see more men entering the nursing profession. “I’m glad that guys are opening their eyes that it is not necessarily a female area. I’m very happy when I have two or three guys on a shift. It gives a break to all the female nurses,” he said.
Male or female, though, it’s the attitude that matters most, he said.

“It has to be more than just a job. I cannot work like that, and I cannot think like that. If you’re a nurse, you’re a nurse everywhere you go. It’s not only at work during the week … it’s a constant thing.”

Gagné said he feels he’s a nurse everywhere he goes, not just at work.

Some patients will mistake him for a doctor. “I tell them, ‘I’m not your doctor – sorry – I’m your nurse. I don’t want to be your doctor.’ I’m done with that focused mind of wanting to be a doctor. It’s flattering to know that people could perceive you as a doctor. That tells me that I’m probably reflecting enough of my knowledge that it is perceived at that level.”

He gets respect as a nurse, not so much because of gender, but rather as a result of his style. Communication is critical to him, and patients sometimes thank him for his ability to translate tough medical jargon into layman’s language. Some patients don’t understand what’s going on and are afraid to ask, he said. “Sometimes I have to put the words in their mouth. ‘Don’t you want to know this? Have you heard this? Did you understand everything they just said?’”

Gagné does this because it’s what he would want. He tries to put himself in the patient’s position – what it would feel like to be totally dependent on others for care. He recalls a story of a patient who spent several months in the hospital, and understandingly became highly demanding given an infection that required parts of both of her legs and two fingers to be removed. Gagné volunteered to be by her bedside when he was on duty.

He would paint her nails and helped her not to have to cut her thick hair, because he knew what it meant to her. There needed to be flexibility from the other nurses for Gagné to spend that extra time with her when she was at her sickest, but they worked as a team to try to relieve some of this patient’s suffering.

“I made her walk,” he said, ticking off a long list of how he tried to keep her spirits rallied. She went from being a very active woman to being intubated at one point in her treatment. After she was discharged, she was interviewed on national television and sang Gagné’s praises as being influential in her recovery.

“I tended to more than just her physical needs. That lady will stay in my mind forever.”

Being Contagious
His wife, Muriel L. Labonté, R.N., is also a nurse at MUSC, said she always gets asked what it is like being married to Gagné. He’s one of the most personable and high-energy people that she knows, personally and professionally.

"As a parent he was involved as much as I was. If it was time for new shoes he went out and shopped, if it was time for the dentist, well, he went there, too. He was considered an excellent PTA parent as he worked around the needs of the school and the band as well. He’s baked cupcakes and cakes for birthdays and even has done a little sewing when absolutely needed. With Luc, it is always other people first.”
Gagné, who is one of nine children, is a great comfort to his extended family, she said. “As a nurse, Luc is excellent. He is involved, caring, compassionate and very knowledgeable.”

A perfect example of his compassionate spirit is when they went to see her uncle who was dying from cancer.  “As Luc is talking to him he comes straight out and asked him if he was ready to die. He also asked him if he had had visions of God and past family members who were there to help him.  I was shocked and had not expected this interaction, but my uncle went ahead and had a 20-minute conversation with Luc about dying, and who he had envisioned and talked to.”

Labonté said her husband reassured him and brought comfort at a time no one else in the immediate family had felt comfortable broaching the subject. “My aunt who was witness to the whole thing could not thank Luc enough and could not believe that he had done so with such empathy and caring.”
“It’s a profession that has to be chosen from the heart,” Gagné said. His advice to potential nursing students: “This is not a place where you need to be miserable because if you’re miserable, you’re making a lot of other people miserable. It’s more than a job. It’s definitely more than a job.”
Gagné said there are days when he hasn’t felt like being at the bedside, but those are rare.

“Ninety-five percent of the time, it’s not hard. I know this is where I’m supposed to be. It’s been said of me that I’m ‘contagious.’ My compassion, my work, my love — whatever that comes with the territory — is perceived by whomever I encounter. You love your job, and you show it.”

December 9, 2013
 
 
 

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