Chances are on your next stay in the hospital, you’re likely to encounter a male nurse, and it’s not as likely to be a surprise.
The image of men in nursing is experiencing a rapid change. A U.S. Census Bureau study released this year found that the proportion of male registered nurses has more than tripled since 1970, rising from 3 to 10 percent.
There has been a culture change to support the rising number. Berry Anderson, Ph.D., R.N., an assistant professor in the MUSC College of Nursing, said he’s been a nurse for 17 years and sees a shift in respect for men in the nursing profession. “I think that has come with the increase in health care technology, competitive salaries, high job satisfaction, and that others are now recognizing that nursing is a great career. I think people are seeing through those stereotypes we’ve had in the past and welcoming men in nursing.”
Anderson expects the number of men in nursing to continue to rise. Twelve percent of nursing students in the College of Nursing this year are male.
“The weak economy has attracted more people into nursing programs. We have a lot of second-career folks. People have been out there doing something they don’t like, and they come into nursing for the versatility and job satisfaction.”
Steve Schwade, a second semester College of Nursing student, said he left the business world because it wasn’t what he thought it would be like. He worked in a couple of different business settings, and hated it, he said.
“It was straight cutthroat and everyone was trying to make money,” he said of his experiences in the business world. He would come home discouraged and see his wife, who is a nurse, be happy about her work everyday. He realized that was what he wanted and enrolled in nursing school.
He admits it’s been tougher than he thought. “I went home after the first day of class and apologized to her. Until you see it for real, it’s like ‘wow.’”
Schwade, 26, said he made the right choice, though, and feels he can go in a variety of directions once he has his degree. It is strange being the only male in his classes at times. It’s the first time he has been a minority. He hopes more men will choose nursing as a profession.
Already he has encountered patients who want to know if he’s a physician, but the question doesn’t bother him. “I want to help people. I don’t want to diagnose them.”
Anderson, who heads the local Men in Nursing group, hears the same from other nurses. At MUSC, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of men parlaying their military experience into the field of nursing. (See story about Tom Hubbard, R.N.) They may have been a military paramedic or held another medical job, and have come to the position well-trained. Anderson said it’s a good trend.
“The diversity pot makes everything better. You don’t just have one way of thinking, you have several ways of thinking.”
The stigma of being a nurse also is decreasing. It is a profession in its own right – not just a career men choose because they couldn’t “make it” as a doctor, he said. Anderson, who knew he wanted to be a nurse since seventh grade, never wanted to be a physician. His parents were nurses, and he always enjoyed the sciences. “I thought nursing had a lot of job opportunities – the diversity of nursing. I couldn’t imagine going to school and picking something while I was really young, doing a residency and then sticking to it forever. What if I didn’t like it? With nursing, you have flexibility. So if I get tired of something, I can just change. ”
In his last semester in nursing school, he became interested in psychiatric nursing and went on to love working at the MUSC Institute of Psychiatry and being an assistant professor at the College of Nursing. Anderson, who always has been fascinated by why people behave the way they do, found psychiatric nursing a perfect fit. “It’s been a great career for me.”
|Anderson has found nursing to be the perfect fit for him.|
He tries to pass that passion along to his students and instill compassion. Nursing on an acute psychiatric unit is particularly challenging because patients typically don’t give much feedback or thanks, given the nature of their illnesses, but he gets enough signs to know he’s making a difference. He recalls a former patient who came up to him at a restaurant to thank him.
“It blew me away because first of all she came up to me and said she was a psych patient, which a lot of people wouldn’t do because there’s a stigma involved, and I was with a group of people. She said, ‘what you told me made such a difference in my life.’”
Anderson would like to see more men in the profession. His two main pieces of advice are to have a heart for the job and to find the right niche. “Follow what you want to do. You may not find it in your first job, but you’ll get there. Nursing will allow you to do that. You can do whatever you want.”
One new trend appealing to men is obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, which can be more lucrative and offers the possibility of operating independently of physician oversight to relieve the shortage of medical care in rural areas.
“I hope to see the rules change so nurse practitioners can operate independently,” he said of state legislation that would allow that to happen. “They could open their own business and hang their own shingle. I think that’s coming, and the Affordable Care Act may help push it forward.”
Men are helping to reshape nursing’s image. “People are seeing it as a worthwhile profession in which you can make really good money with career opportunities. It hasn’t always been that way.”
That’s not to say financial incentives are the main draw for men. “I’m inspired by helping people. I’ve never been a person who did something just for money. I get a lot of enjoyment out of making a difference,” Anderson said, adding that he looks for that in his nursing students. “I can truly say I enjoy what I’m doing and that inspires me to do more.”
Anderson is just glad both men and women will be shaping the field in the future. “It will benefit both,” he said. “I think not having a ‘women’s profession’ but having a ‘profession’ is better for nursing.”
To read more on men in nursing, see these stories.