Nurse This!

More men pursuing a field traditionally dominated by women

For Weekly SurgeMay 12, 2011 

When Scott Dudley, 33, was a baby his dad had a debilitating accident creating an out-of-the-ordinary father-son dynamic for a child.

Since the age of 12, Dudley helped nurse his father, who had broken his neck, resulting in lifelong complications that required tracheotomy care and the use of ventilators.

Although Dudley has worked extensively in the restaurant industry in Myrtle Beach, briefly owning Antipasto's Italian Restaurant in Surfside Beach, a few years ago he decided that his future belonged in nursing instead, drawing from his experience of tending to his father.

Dudley is among a growing legion of men who are shattering career stereotypes and going into a profession commonly associated with the fairer sex.

The term nurse often conjures images of a woman in a sexy little white uniform and matching hat carefully tending to the bed-ridden ill and nursing them back to health. However, enter 2011 and reality, and the term nurse is a far more diverse word than in the past.

While chauvinist connotations and antiquated attitudes have feminized nursing, more men are taking the reigns in a variety of nursing roles including registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and licensed practicing nurses.

As National Nurses Week, an annual event held in recognition and appreciation of nursing, comes to a close today, the spotlight is no longer strictly for women. According to the 2008 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, which is published every four years, men make up 6.6 percent of the more than 3 million nurses registered in the United States, with an estimated increase of more than 34,000 men entering the field since 2004.

Not only are men filling up nursing program classrooms locally, Myrtle Beach area hospitals and medical offices are also noticing an increase in male nurses as well, drawn by the stability, potential for growth, good pay, and the call to help people and make an impact on others' lives.

"I think you're going to see more males in the nursing profession because salaries have gone up in nursing in general, and that makes it more attractive occupation," explains Practical Nursing Lead Instructor Leslie Collier of Brunswick Community College, north of Myrtle Beach in Bolivia, N.C. "In the past, when nursing salaries were low, a male couldn't come into nursing and support a family off of it. Now salaries are to the point that a male can support a family."

Him or femme?

Hollywood is a key contributor in feminizing the industry. A prime example of the stereotypes and misconceptions associated with men in nursing is illustrated in the 2000 movie, "Meet the Parents." When former CIA operative Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro) meets his daughter's boyfriend for the first time, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), a nurse, Byrnes is openly dismissive of his career choice.

Attributing Focker's career as a nurse to the common stereotypes that he wasn't smart enough to become a doctor and it's a women-only profession, the audience later finds out that Focker chose nursing so he could work more directly with patients versus dealing with the bureaucracy of being a doctor. Byrnes' attitude about Focker's career illustrates the stigma plaguing male nurses, even today, 11 years after "Meet the Parents" first hit the silver screen.

However, despite these ill-conceived notions and ideas often portrayed in the media, nursing is a noble and rewarding career for any gender, according to those in the field. As a battered economy has taken a toll on jobs, and an aging U.S. population has increased the need for a larger healthcare workforce, women and men are moving into an industry that is experiencing a growing demand, especially here on the Grand Strand.

Although more men are seeking out the nursing profession and making their own statement in it, its history is significant to the progress being made.

Nurturing the Past

If you've heard the name Florence Nightingale, then you've heard the name of a nursing pioneer. While the beginning of nursing can't be credited to Nightingale, she was very successful in raising attention to the call and need for it in her book, "Notes on Nursing: What It Is, What It Is Not."

In the introduction written by Ramona Salotti, Salotti states that Nightingale's "Notes on Nursing" was not originally written as a manual for nursing, but rather intended as a "collection of hints"; by educating oneself on sanitation and health, a nurse could help accelerate recovery and prevent illness.

Nightingale based her notes on her time spent at Scutari, a hospital in Crimea, now the Ukraine, during the Crimean War. Stationed there from 1854 to 1856, Nightingale, along with 38 other nurses, worked to stem the tide of the high mortality rate plaguing the hospital.

While we're used to strict protocol regarding cleanliness and sanitation in hospitals today, the exact opposite could be said of the deplorable conditions Nightingale faced in 1854. Not only was the hospital overcrowded and filthy, but the wounded and sick were housed over open sewers and were malnourished from a severe lack of food.

Along with emphasizing the significance of sanitation and health, Nightingale also broke down the importance of assessment, diagnosis, planning, and implementation of nursing measures. "Notes on Nursing" promoted hospital sanitation as an essential aspect of health care, and her hints laid the groundwork for the importance of compassionate care and organization still found in contemporary nursing.

In celebration of Nightingale and nurses worldwide, National Nurses Week, was designated as an annual event to show appreciation to those in nursing. Starting on May 6, deemed National Nurses Day, the week ends today, on the anniversary of Nightingale's birthday.

While Nightingale's "Notes on Nursing" was generally geared toward women at the time it was written, and in the past women have most often filled the nurse's role, but more and more men are pulling on the scrubs and entering the world of nursing for a variety of reasons.

Tending to the Future

In 2011, nursing is a much different world than the one Nightingale navigated. More and more career opportunities are opening, and as the U.S. population lives longer and grows older, a steady job market has enlisted nursing as an advantageous and rewarding career, especially for men who seek steady pay and challenging situations.

Brunswick Community College north of Myrtle Beach in Bolivia, N.C. offers two nursing programs for students - the Associate Degree Nursing Program and Practical Nursing Program - and has seen an increase in men enrolling in those programs.

According to Paula Sullivan, Brunswick Community College's Director of the Associate Degree Nursing Program, a mixture of reasons were cited in regard to men enrolling in the school's Fall 2012 class, the largest increase of male students so far.

"The men that came into their first year class this past fall were men who lost their previous careers, who lost their jobs due to the economy, and were looking for a second career and thought that nursing was a good choice," explains Sullivan.

Within two years, students can work toward becoming a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse. Once the course is completed and students become licensed, they can choose to continue their education, opening the door to a variety of career options and specialties.

"You can do a great deal more with a nursing degree, than you could 20 years ago. There are more job opportunities out there," says BCC instructor Collier.

While men tend to lean toward trauma and emergency medicine, opportunities in teaching, law and media also make nursing degrees enticing.

"When we asked the males what prompted them to choose nursing as a career, the answers we get are: it's a secure job and the pay is good," says Collier.

In South Carolina, a graduate of a two-year registered nurse program can expect to earn on average around $61,000 a year, while those who go on to earn their Masters or doctorate degree in nursing will earn around $75,000 a year, according to the South Carolina Nurses Association (SCNA).

SCNA Executive Director Judith Thompson says education and passing the license exam is instrumental in earning these kinds of figures.

"This is a pretty stringent state, with solid academically-based traditions in terms of what you must do to be licensed in the state," says Thompson.

Here on the Grand Strand, Horry Georgetown Technical College offers nursing programs popular with students. HGTC saw a record number of nursing graduates walk during commencement on May 5 and among the 90 nursing graduates, 9 were men.

While that number may seem small, Christy Cimineri, Academic Chair of Nursing and Health Science at HGTC says in the ten years she's been with the college, the percentage of men enrolling has increased exponentially.

"I think men are finally realizing it's a wonderful job," she says. "For a long time, nursing has had that stigma that it's just for women."

HGTC offers various nursing programs for those looking to enter the field. In the Associate in Applied Science-Nursing degree track, students work toward becoming a registered nurse (RN), and out of the 282 students now enrolled, 25 are men. While in the Diploma in Applied Science-Practical Nursing program, only two out of the 36 students enrolled are men. Although they make up a small percentage of the classroom, the number of men continues to rise with each class.

"We have continued interest from men, and I have more guys coming to the admission sessions," says Cimineri. "It really is the wave of the future, I see it leveling out and hopefully becoming more equal between men and women."

Cimineri attributes the increased interest of men in nursing to the wide variety of opportunities available to them. Along with being able to receive minority scholarships, many men are seeking to work in trauma-related fields, including emergency rooms and intensive care units.

"Nursing is the largest workforce for healthcare," explains Cimineri. "We are in every aspect of the community. A lot of time I think people think of a nurse and all they think of is a hospital; they don't realize the amount of nurses that are in physician's offices, DHEC, in school with your children, and making policies."

In the future, Cimineri believes that the number of men enrolling will only continue to increase. "It really is an exciting time to be a nurse with the institute of medicine pushing that nurses are able to practice to the full extent of their licensure," she says.

One guy working toward the Associate in Applied Science- Nursing degree at HGTC is the aforementioned Dudley. Once he has successfully completed the program, he will become eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination - RN, to earn his title of registered nurse.

Although Dudley vowed he would never get involved in nursing after his father passed away, he began to miss helping others.

"After a few years of being away from it, I couldn't deny it was in my blood. I saw how the nurses made (my father's) day better. They were always good to him, made him smile. That was something I always noticed," says Dudley.

Through a concentrated program that includes lectures, simulation labs, and clinical studies at area hospitals and medical offices, Dudley says the program focuses on a variety of medical areas including pediatric, obstetrics, psychological, and general medicine. "They have a very good nursing program," he says. "It's very intense and very difficult."

By offering a broad range of experiences, Dudley says nursing students can become familiar with the variety of specialties available. Along with simulated situations involving life-size dummies, the program sends students into area hospitals and medical offices to experience caring for people first-hand. Along with a great deal of responsibility and organization, Dudley says a person also has to have a lot of compassion and patience.

"You have to understand that you're caring for people, and it's not a fun thing when people are sick. I think it takes age to really understand what it takes to become a nurse and really care for another human being that's not attached to you in anyway," he explains.

Using humor to dispel uncomfortable situations, Dudley says ultimately his favorite part about nursing is caring for people. "It makes you feel good, it's difficult but rewarding."

While Dudley has enjoyed the learning process of the program, he also has future plans to continue his education, decide on a specialty, and eventually work toward his Masters Degree.

"They say in nursing, you're a lifelong learner. I want to continue as far as I can in the field, depending on which road I go down," he says.

Dudley plans to obtain his Associate Degree in Nursing in August, an accomplishment with a symbolic twist. "The pinning is on Aug. 8, and my father broke his neck on Aug. 8, 1978. Ironically, that would be the perfect day, so I have to pass," he says.

Treating the Grand Strand

Within the Loris Healthcare System, which serves northwestern Horry County, as well as parts of Brunswick and Columbus counties in North Carolina, the ratio of men to women nurses is 1:12. While only 16 male nurses are employed within the system that includes Loris Community Hospital and Seacoast Medical Center, the system has seen an increasing amount of men applying and entering the nursing field, especially in the emergency and ICU departments.

Conway Medical Center has also noticed a surge of male nurses, experiencing a 50 percent increase in the past five years. Although 25 out of the 305 nurses on staff are males, officials project the number of men entering the field at the hospital to continue to increase in the future due to competitive salaries and a steady job market.

At Grand Strand Regional Medical Center and South Strand Medical Center, 16 percent of the nursing workforce consists of men. Employing 907 female nurses and 167 male nurses, this year has shown an increase of male nurses working there since 2010.

One such fellah tending to patients at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center is Brandon Bourne, 39, a registered nurse.

Bourne moved to Myrtle Beach from Portland, Ore. in 2007, where he was previously employed as an industrial engineer. With a want to help people, Bourne decided to leave engineering to pursue nursing. Cheaper tuition costs lead him to the Myrtle Beach area, where he attended HGTC and obtained his associate degree.

Bourne has been employed by Grand Strand Regional Medical Center for two years and specializes in Cardiac Telemetry. In this field, Bourne monitors his patients' heart boxes for heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rates, while working closely with doctors and other nurses to interpret the information and provide optimal care.

"I like working with people, some nurses do it for the money, but I would rather be with my patients. I like to see them out in the community after they've been healed," he says.

While most of his patients are aged 50 and older, Bourne says, "My favorite patients are the geriatric patients. They tell you their stories, and you can learn a lot from them."

Along with caring for patients and ensuring their needs are met, Bourne says long hours and extensive charting of the patient's progress and daily statuses is a key part of the job.

Although he loves his job, Bourne also plans to go back to school to work toward his Masters Degree and become a Physicians Assistant, but plans to remain within a hospital setting. He says, "It's more unpredictable and you have a lot more resources."

Bourne says he really enjoys helping people, but wishes that the stigma associated with nursing being a women's profession would be dispelled.

"I wish it would go away, I think the profession needs more males," he says. "(Nursing) is mainly about helping people, anyone can do that, it's not just a female job."

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