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Military a perfect pathway for some men to enter nursing

By Dawn Brazell | News Center | November 22, 2013

Tom Hubbard"I was a leader in the military, and I’m currently a leader now. You have to rally the troops,” said Tom Hubbard, R.N.
Sarah Pack 

Tom Hubbard embodies why the connection between the military and nursing makes for a good strategy. Like many other male nurses, his military career brought him into the profession.

His office at MUSC could be a war room. Color-coded files sit in neat, ordered rows on his desk, and colored index cards coat static cling paper that line his walls, like battleships positioning themselves for action.

“There’s no top secret stuff here,” he said. “The more I can communicate, the better.”

To say Hubbard, R.N., who serves as a nurse in the Army reserves as well as a nurse manager at MUSC, likes to be organized may be an understatement. A humorous, softer side tempers his disciplined style, though. “Does my hair look OK,” he jokes, smoothing a shiny bald head as he poses for a photograph.

Hubbard, who holds a master’s degree in nursing, and is a certified critical care nurse and certified project manager, is an odd mix of tough guy and teddy bear. He serves as program manager for Kronos, and is standardizing scheduling software across 435 areas and implementing a patient acuity tool in 43 inpatient units to help charge nurses make assignments and establish a fair staffing model.

“I’ve been here seven years. I can get on the floor and people know me, and I can explain why this is good for them to use. There’s been a lot of excitement about it rolling out, even though there’s a lot going on.”

Hubbard said his military training helps. “I was a leader in the military, and I’m currently a leader now. You have to rally the troops.”

Hubbard serves in the Army reserves. 

Nine percent of nurses with the Medical University Hospital Authority are male. Hubbard still represents a minority, though the numbers are growing; a trend he’s glad to see. “The interesting thing is years and years ago female physicians were very small numbers.  As of right now, female physicians make up about 50 percent of physicians, but men in nursing still haven’t gotten that high. We fluctuate between 3 to 9 percent of nurses.”

Nursing started out as a male profession, but Florence Nightingale changed everything, he said. “Nursing has its ties in military. Florence Nightingale was nursing soldiers during the Crimean War. Clara Barton, another famous nurse, was nursing during the Civil War. Walt Whitman was a nurse in the Civil War,” he said.   “(Nightingale) did wonderful things for the field of nursing, but she made it into more of a female profession. Because of the wars as well - men were going off to war - and women stepped up to take on the role of nursing.”

Hubbard thinks the gender balance in nursing hasn’t equalized as much as the physician ranks because culture has glamourized nurses as a female profession. There’s also the stigma portrayed in media, such as the movie, “Meet the Fockers” that pokes fun at male nurses.

“It’s a very funny movie, but I was very offended by it. We glamorize nursing as a female profession, and it’s always the subservient female profession underneath the overwhelming control of a male-dominated health care system. Guys don’t normally want to go into that sort of field. They think of nursing as you only become a nurse if you’re gay or if there’s nothing else out there for you.”

It couldn’t be further from the truth in Hubbard’s experience.

Dream Big

Hubbard took the path many men in nursing do. He joined the military after a year of college becoming a Navy corpsman and training as a respiratory therapist. He began spending less time with the patients and doing more automated duties to the point where he felt more like a factory worker. Hubbard discovered he missed the patients and realized he liked nursing.

“I made the decision I wanted to go back to school, and I wanted to go back for nursing. I liked that nursing was a versatile role. You’re not stuck in one specific area in the hospital. You can expand and go into management or into critical care, which was my path.”

He debated the physician route, but he saw physicians were very busy and tended to be very specialized. He wanted to be able to spend more time with patients. He also learned he had misconceptions about nursing.

“We need to educate people early on. When you think about nursing, all you think about is the woman in white changing bedpans, answering to the doctor. But after working in the hospital, you see the nurses are the ones in control of the patient’s care.  They are the ones who are talking to the family and who are there 24/7. They are the ones who really are counted on when things are tough.”

Nurses can keep recreating themselves. Hubbard has held several nursing jobs in his drift down the map from New York, where he was nurse leader in a burn/ICU unit in the late ‘90s, to New Jersey, where one of his jobs was as a critical care transport unit nursing coordinator. He came to MUSC in 2006 as a nurse manager and has held various positions.

“It goes on and on how you can branch out.  As I tell the new nurses coming on, as your role changes and you grow in nursing, you’re not always going to be in one spot. I’m the perfect example.”

Hubbard has always been a critical care nurse and can still step in by the bedside if needed. His specialty was burns and trauma. “It was very tough, but you see miracles happen there. You see people make it who you never thought could. ”

He recalls a man in a car fire, where medical staff spent months working with him, but he walked out of the hospital. “You form bonds with the patients. You see them go through the different phases of recovery, the anger, the denial, the acceptance and moving on. It’s very powerful.”

Despite nursing being a perfect fit for him, he still gets pushback at times. He recalls a patient he treated during his time as a home health care nurse. “He asked me why I chose my field - that I should be out working in a steel mill or something. I said, ‘this is what I wanted to do.’ I also told him I’d spent time with the marines in the military, too. He seemed to accept that and allow me closer into his life, but sometimes you have to tell them some of the manly stuff you do.”

Hubbard hangs his marathon medals in his office. They remind him of the importance of teamwork, a concept that helped him lose 75 pounds. 

Hubbard thinks male nurses add a critical diversity to a nursing team and differing viewpoints. “Men are wired differently. A lot of women like to work with guys because the way we approach situations can be different,” he said. “Maybe it’s a male bonding thing. When I worked as a bedside nurse, and there were more guys on the shift, it seemed to be more fun. It’s a great field, and there’s a lot of opportunity.”

His advice to men interested in the field is to dream big.

“You’re not limited as a guy. You can go anywhere in this field, even if it’s working with obstetrics.  My advice is to really look at the opportunities. Don’t just focus on the clichés of men in nursing or of the Suzie nurse in the white skirt who answers to the domineering physician. There are a lot of opportunities, and it’s a great career. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it’s the best move I’ve ever made.”

Hubbard said men with military backgrounds have a unique advantage. Nursing is very much a team endeavor. He loves management because when teams work well together, he can see patients reaping the benefit. On a more personal note, he recalls in 2008 being physically unfit, so he joined the Wellness Center. He joined a team to start losing weight and eventually got fit enough to start running half marathons and even the Marine Corps marathon in Washington, D.C. He’s spent the last six years getting up every morning and going to the gym and has lost 75 pounds.

“I do it with other people. If I did it by myself, I wouldn’t be inspired, and I wouldn’t be continuing on, and I’d probably look a lot different than I do now.”

The same analogy works for nurses.

“When I see teams working well together, that inspires me. Teamwork inspires me. We can’t go at anything alone.”

Given that men still are a minority, the ones who are entering the field generally tend to have a strong calling, he said.

“Men choose to become nurses. More men are choosing it because it’s a good paying field, and there’s job security. It’s a great profession. For the most part, though, men go into nursing because it’s what they want to do. We bring a lot of passion and desire to make a change in someone’s life.”

  To read more on men in nursing, see these stories.

Luc Gagne   
Nurse finds calling to profession a passion. Nursing's appeal as a second career How men in nursing impact the profession 




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Resources >>

MUSC College of Nursing

MUSC Bulletin: College of Nursing

American Assembly for Men in Nursing


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