In an effort to attract more men to nursing, in 2002, the Oregon Center for Nursing launched the campaign Are You Man Enough to Be a Nurse? (As you can see, I borrowed from the line for the title of this blog post.) The Center’s research had shown that nursing was still seen by many as “women’s work” and that something needed to be done to change that image. The result was the poster above. A group of men who happen to be nurses. On its website, the Center states: “It was so popular, several states purchased the rights to the poster and created their own versions.”
Women have always dominated the field of nursing and still do. But according to the report What explains the rising share of U.S. men in registered nursing? issued by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth in October 2017, “Since 1960 American men have entered the field of nursing in increasing numbers.”
- In 1960 men represented 2.2 percent of nurses in the United States.
- In 2013 they represented 11.9 percent.
- In 2015, they represented 13 percent.
Historically, men used to play a significant role in nursing the sick. The article Just Call Us Nurses: Men in Nurses that appeared in Medscape in 2012 points out that “When nursing grew into a profession in the late 19th century, with uniform standards of education and practice, few men were found among the ranks of these new nurses.”
The article goes on to say “Florence Nightingale is widely blamed for the “demise of men” in nursing because she believed that the organization and supervision of nursing care should be taken out of the hands of men. In fact, Nightingale has been quoted as saying that men were not suited to nursing.”
I had the privilege of interviewing several men who are nurses in Maine and would beg to differ. Maine is no different than the rest of the country in that while only a small percentage of nurses are men, the numbers have increased — slowly.
I invite you to read the following stories from the men I interviewed. Men who are nurses and are proud of the work they do. They share why they became nurses, barriers some of them faced, and whether or not the expectations they had going in have been met.
From Mike Denbow:
An important thing to remember, we are not male or female nurses, we are part of a medical care team that is responsible for the compassionate and professional care of the people we see. We are simply nurses.
Maine is currently facing a critical shortage of nurses. Read these stories and be inspired. You might decide you, too, want to be a nurse and in doing so, help turn things around. Mike says, “If you think you might like to be a nurse, “Do it.”
Mike Denbow, RN. Former police officer, now a home health nurse.
As a police officer, Mike often responded to medical emergencies — car accidents, serious trauma, suicide threats, and other critical situations. He was so intrigued by the medical/psychiatric part of his job that he got a basic EMT certification. At the time, he never thought about becoming a nurse. Several years later, two friends who were ICU nurses (one, a man) suggested nursing as a new profession.
At that time I had been a police officer for about 24 years. Law enforcement had been my entire life and I was not interested. Eventually, I started thinking about the medical profession and had several friends who felt I would be a good nurse and kept moving me in that direction.
Two personal experiences also helped move him along.
I had become very ill and doctors at the ER kept sending me home. Finally, after my fourth time in the ER in four days, a nurse stepped forward and took the reins. She saved my life. I was admitted and the care I received from the nurses in the hospital was unbelievable.
The second incident was when I was in Virginia visiting my grandmother. My wife called to tell me that an 80-year-old friend of mine had called the house and sounded very confused. I immediately called him, triaged him over the telephone, and came to the conclusion that he’d just had a stroke. I called rescue and he was transported to the hospital. He’d had a mild stroke called a TIA.
In 2010, after 34 years in law enforcement, Mike decided to take the leap into healthcare and became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at a rehab facility. Six months later, he was in nursing school at the Maine College of Health Professions in Lewiston. He is now a registered nurse at VNA Home Health Hospice.
My nursing career is extremely rewarding. I am working in a profession where my training, education, experience, and research allow me to care for someone who is “suffering” (Latin meaning of patient). All this allows me to help/heal/comfort and remove their distress. I find this extremely rewarding and even more then I expected when I first started out.
If you have compassion, empathy, a strong desire to help someone who is sick or injured, and are not afraid of working extremely hard at your education and your job, then do it — become a nurse. This is the most rewarding, difficult career you will ever have. I wish I had done this 15 years ago. I have only been a registered nurse for a few years and I’m still learning, but love every day I go to work.
Jeremy Penney, RN. Former crisis worker and social worker, now a special care nurse.
I was inspired to become a nurse by my lovely wife, who was a nurse when we met. She was passionate about critical care and working with patients who are very ill. I also worked with nurses in various capacities in my previous life as a crisis worker and later, a social worker for the state. I am now a registered nurse at Pen Bay Medical Center.
I had few barriers to becoming a nurse, except the financial challenge to my household. I left my previous career to go back to school and my supportive wife worked an extraordinary amount of hours in order to keep us afloat.
The thing that most surprised me was the amount of responsibility that the nurse has and the stress that we are under, pulled in multiple directions for 12 hours at a time. Someone needs to use the bathroom, someone is demented and trying to jump out of bed, someone is wanted for an MRI, and everyone needs medicine administered safely and on time.
Happily, time and experience make everything seem easier, even when they remain very difficult. The things that people often say they could not do —cleaning up every type of bodily fluid, washing a patient who cannot care for herself, caring for patients during and after death, inserting needles and tubes in any number of places — these things actually become very normalized and are far from being the greatest challenge.
Bruce Raymond, CNA. About to enter nursing school.
I’ve always been intellectually curious and have spent much of my life trying to balance making a living while finding meaning in the work. It was while taking care of my dying grandmother that I realized I was adept at caring for people who were sick and that I found it fulfilling. I took Maine Medical Center’s CNA class with the intentions of working at MMC as a CNA to make sure that nursing was a good fit for me. I am now certain that being a nurse is what I am meant to be. Being of service to others has profoundly changed me and added meaning that I’ve sought my entire life.
I think that times have changed significantly as it concerns men in nursing. There were very few men nurses even when I was younger. I think stereotypes are changing and in the same way that there are many more female doctors, there are more and more men becoming nurses. I have only experienced one instance when my gender was an issue for a patient’s family and that was because of a religious preference.
Honestly, I think that being a man in nursing may have more advantages than disadvantages now. I hear “We need more male nurses” often. I was recently awarded a scholarship from the Kappa Zeta At-Large-Chapter of STTI (nursing honor society). At the awards ceremony, all the members in attendance were female. I know they do have male members but it’s made up of predominantly women nurses. But times are changing quickly. More men are realizing that being a nurse is a fulfilling career that pays well and offers great job security. I foresee a future where the numbers of men and women will be more even in the nursing field. I will be proud to be a nurse!
Thanks to a partnership between Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph’s College, Bruce will attend nursing school this fall.
Scott Evans, RN. Former member of the U.S. Coast Guard, now a NICU nurse (Neonatal Intensive Care).
I have been “saving lives” since I was 14 working as a lifeguard. It’s a very addictive adrenaline rush kind of feeling. I joined the USCG at 18 and worked in search and rescue and law enforcement — helping people, saving lives. They sent me to EMT school because were the first responders to many traumas while at sea.
At the end of my enlistment, I decided to build on my EMT training and enrolled in the nursing program at the University of New England. I worked on a medical floor at Mercy Hospital for three years before transferring to the Birthplace. I loved doing labor and delivery. It is very special job helping to deliver babies. I moved to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at Maine Medical Center 23 years ago.
Coming from a military background, working in intensive care is very similar. All the success we have with the population we serve comes from the whole team. You cannot do it alone. There is just too much to do and you cannot be there 24/7, so the team is the key to successful outcomes.
Having worked as a nurse as long as I have, I still cannot understand the continued inequity in the gender gap. It is still very hard to get men to even think about taking nursing on as a profession. I don’t get asked why I didn’t go to medical school as much today as I did earlier in my career. I think the public mostly have accepted men who become nurses, but it is still not a career path that men themselves take. I find it interesting that three of the six men in our unit have come from military backgrounds
John Lee, RN. Emergency Department nurse for eight years, now a hospice nurse.
Working at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House has been a wonderful experience and I am glad I made the move. It has been a privilege to work with patients as they transition out of this life. However, I have found the real reward in hospice work is guiding and providing emotional support to the families.
In my first undergraduate class in nursing, we were asked how we would define the word “nurse.” I stated that a nurse is a human being who desires human contact and needs an environment in which to serve others with skill and compassion. After nine years of nursing and my reflections today, I believe even more strongly in my definition of a nurse.
In my own experience, being a patient myself has given me an insight into the need for caring hands. I have been a direct participant with people in almost every level of the medical care profession, from doctors to nurses to health insurance personnel, due to a long and past illness. In my endless hours of staring at the wall, with an I.V. line stinging my arm, it was the nurses’ touches, smiles, and words of encouragement that made me feel human.
I also had the opportunity to travel, twice, to Haiti and aid nurses and doctors in giving healthcare to the poorest of the poor. These trips opened my eyes to the social suffering of others. On both trips, I had no technical knowledge; all I could do was care. I gave warm, reassuring smiles as I escorted patients into the exam rooms, and I rubbed their arms as they squeezed my hand for support. Despite the language barrier, I could see in their eyes their appreciation for human contact.
These two events are what got me into the profession of nursing. They are what continue to guide my philosophy and everyday practice. Mother Teresa said, ‘The important thing is not to do a lot or to do everything. The important thing is to be ready for anything, at all times.’ I may not always bring to practice any great insights or knowledge, but my hands of caring will be at the ready.
Derrick Cash, RN. Former CNA, now a registered nurse.
During high school, I took the health occupations course, which allowed me to take the certified nurses assistant test. I began working at a local nursing home and over the next 20 years, I had many experiences, good and bad.
I always wanted to go back to school but every time I attempted I would get discouraged and back out. The task of working and going to school was too much for me. The encouragement and support from many of my nurse friends was a big part of my final attempt. The success of that final attempt was due to support from family, work, and the program that Kaplan University (now Purdue University) offered. I was able to attend online courses for most of the program and then spend the final year on site and at clinical sites. I will admit the financial strain that getting a college degree has been the most difficult obstacle.
Being a man in the nursing profession can be difficult at times. There are cultures that disagree with men caring for women and these wishes must be respected. There have been times that I feel like I am pushing work on to others. Most of the time there are no issues with caring for my patients. The level of responsibility for others has been the largest piece that was unexpected. There is no class that can prepare you for the level of responsibility you feel for a patient’s wellbeing.
My interest in caring goes back to when I was a child and my mother use to take me with her to visit some of her elderly friends. I recognized the difficulties they faced with aging. I also experienced the joy of caring for my grandmother until her death. I feel like I was born to be a caregiver. I have always known that I would care for people at some level. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments and career as a registered nurse at Waldo County General Hospital.
Graham Ratner, a student nurse at St. Joseph’s College
As long as I can remember, I have had an interest in helping people. I believe that every individual I encounter deserves respect and to not be judged. This is what drove me to become a nurse. You are caring for people in their most vulnerable state.
Perhaps some poor choices brought them to this point, however, it is not for us, as nurses, to judge — only to respect and help them to recover in whatever ways we can. I have type one diabetes and I understand the difficulty of learning all the new life changes to try and care for one’s self. Having a strong first line of care (nurses) can make all the difference.
It can be intimidating entering a field that is female dominated. However, if your interest and dedication are there, it will speak volumes about how competent men can be in offering patient-centered care.
Women have also faced this when entering a male-dominated profession such as doctors and surgeons, etc. If you have confidence and are not easily perturbed, then nothing should stop you from achieving your goal. I believe that diversity in a job setting is crucial because it brings alternate viewpoints and values that could not be achieved in a uniform setting.
I would encourage any man to pursue the field of nursing if they are interested. It is a rewarding and humbling experience to be caring for someone in their time of need.
Larry Plant, DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), mental health field.
I became a nurse at the encouragement of an operating room nurse I met while working as a housekeeper at Westbrook Hospital. She saw me peeking in the OR doors all the time and asked me if I was interested in working there. I was. I became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), went on to obtain my operating room technician certificate and then back to school for my associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in nursing.
At the beginning of my career, I chose to work in the medical surgical, intensive care, and coronary care nursing units. It was clear to me that although I was helping to connect with the patients in a technical way (managing IV’s, bandages, ventilator tubing, etc.) I was not connecting with them emotionally.
During the beginning of the AIDS epidemic a young man was admitted to the ICU and many nurses refused to care for him out of fear of how to handle this newly diagnosed illness. As we all learned to use Universal Precautions, I was not hesitant to work with him. In doing so, I learned early on what it meant to use my care of nursing philosophy with my regard for humility for others along with the healing that is so essential in the profession of nursing. It was after this experience that I decided to move into the field on Mental Health Nursing and have been in this field for almost 30 years now.
I taught mental health nursing for 10 years at St Joseph’s College, as well as some classroom teaching at the University of Southern Maine. I also taught abroad, including six weeks in Israel as an Associate Professor and on a Russian river boat cruise along the Volga River. I have also been in private practice for many years, and have been director of nursing at three hospitals in Maine.
I have been involved in nursing research and published two articles which has been very rewarding and, of course, contributes greatly to a resume. And I have been active in volunteer work through Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society of Nursing and the American Psychiatric Nursing Association at the local, state and national levels.
Larry has received many awards, but two stand out. In 2006, the State of Maine House of Representatives recognized him as Advanced Practice Nurse of the year. He also received the Virginia Henderson Fellow Award for Philanthropy in Nursing for Sigma Theta Tau for his ongoing financial support.
It’s very fulfilling to be able to provide scholarship money to nursing students who needed assistance as I was at one time in need of assistance for my education. I never forgot my beginnings in nursing from that time I spoke to the OR nurse who asked if I was interested in nursing. I have been very happy and fortunate to give back to nursing in so many ways.
It is an exciting time to be in nursing as it is a challenging but rewarding profession. Finally, the salaries for all nurses are on the rise, so much so that when I started out in 1982 I was making $7.00 an hour and now the salaries can be anywhere from $35.00 for specialty nurses to $150.00 or more for advanced practice nurses in private practice.
Rick Barry, RN. Vice President of Nursing Care Services
I had the opportunity to work as a Medical Technologist in the US Air Force for almost nine years. During that time, I was assigned in the Philippines as part of a tactical hospital. This hospital would serve to support troops in combat exercises as well as providing free medical care to the remote portions in the Philippines. During that time I was able to assist in many capacities and I developed the desire to work directly with patients.
The profession of nursing probably offers more opportunities for variation and flexibility than almost any profession I know. Additionally, being a nurse pretty much assures you employment opportunities almost anywhere in the US and perhaps the world. I am currently the Vice President of Nursing Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Inland Hospital in Waterville.
For my first job as a nurse out of school, I worked on a medical ICU. Out of the almost 50 staff members, I was the only male. Because of that, the leader of the department wanted to make sure I would be a good fit with the team. My interview lasted close to seven hours. Coming from the laboratory field and having four nurses in my family (my mother and three of my eight sisters are nurses), I felt very comfortable working there. I would joke however that it felt like for the first 6 months or so my middle name was “lifting help”.
I try to provide presentations at local high school career days to share with the students what nursing is about and how it is way past the 1950’s stereotypical female only profession.
Anthony McGuire, Ph.D. Nurse practitioner and nursing professor, now director of a nursing program.
Tony never intended to be a nurse or in the healthcare field at all. He went to CNA school with his sister, who was going and needed some extra support.
I love my sister and I wanted her to do well. I didn’t intend to like it, but we started doing our clinicals and lo and behold …
After graduating, he worked for a while at a nursing home and then switched to the airline industry. It wasn’t long before he realized that he missed taking care of people. He headed back to Maine and took a job as an orderly for a hospital orthopedic team.
There was a charge nurse, her name was Doris Carver, who said, ‘Tony, what are you doing here?’ I was probably 21 at the time. She goes, ‘Well, you seem like a bright guy. I want you to meet me at the University of Maine at Augusta on this day, at this time.’ I met her there and she took me into the advising office and enrolled me in some science courses. I started taking courses and was working at the hospital and then she said, ‘OK, I think it’s time for you to apply to nursing schools. I had realized somehow during the process that I needed to do more with my education. Once I got a taste of it (nobody in my family had a college education), I knew I needed to do more.
He certainly did do more. He got a associates degree in nursing, followed by a business degree, here in Maine. Then he moved to California, where he got his BSN, a master’s degree, and finally, a Ph.D. in nursing. He was a critical care nurse for 31 years and an acute care nurse practitioner for 18 years. He was also on the faculty at California State University. Tony is now a professor and director of the nursing program at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. He also works as a nurse practitioner doing wellness checks three days a month. His life’s work feeds his soul.
I’m doing what I was put on the earth to do and that is to leave it a better place than I found it — one patient, one person at a time. I get to do clinical one on one patient care. I get to educate other people who want to be nurses. I got to do nursing research. Now I’m in a position where I can make a greater impact in my home state of Maine, where we have this critical shortage of nurses. How does that not feed your soul?
Upcoming segments of Nurses Needed
The next segment of Nurses Needed runs Monday, May 7. It will be about advanced practice and community nursing.
Wednesday, May 9 we’ll explore the current status of public health nursing in Maine.
Friday, May 11, we’re going to show our nurses a little love. If you have a story you’d like to share about a Maine nurse, send it to me.
Monday, May 14, we’ll wrap things up with a look back at the history of nursing in Maine.