Despite cultural bias and relatively small numbers, more men are making contributions to the profession and discovering its rewards
Statements like “Why are you only a nurse?” or “You’re too smart to be a nurse” haunt male RNs. Yet most choose nursing school over medical school for the same reason female nurses say they made that career decision to work directly.
When Mark Barnett’s heating and air-conditioning company was sold and he lost his job, the Texas dad went hunting for a new career.
He wanted to return to school, but didn’t know what to pursue. Then his wife reminded him how much he enjoyed helping her study when she was in nursing college, and Barnett decided to give the profession a test run. First, he obtained an emergency technician certificate and worked for an ambulance service.
That experience hooked him. In June, Barnett, a registered nurse, started working in the emergency room of the Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, Texas. He’s also enrolled in a BSN program.
“I like the fast and furious stuff and getting things done,” Barnett said. “I like a job that will keep me busy.”
With a critical RN shortage, nurses like Barnett say it’s time to get the word out that nursing is a viable career for a man and that men are making significant contributions to the profession.
“Men in society are coming around to feeling comfortable with showing emotion and feeling that feminine side,” said Mark Hawk, MSN, ACNP, RN. “It’s OK for men to nurture. It’s OK to be nurses now.”
In theory, it might be all right for men to choose a career in nursing, but in practice, only a small number are actually doing it.
In the last 20 years, the number of male nurses has doubled. In 1980, 2.7 percent, or about 45,000 nurses, were men, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. In 2000, that number jumped to 5.4 percent, or about 147,000 nurses.
Hawk started his health care career in the ninth grade when he became a pinstriper, the male equivalent of the hospital candy striper. Through his high school years, his father was in and out of the hospital and died when Hawk was a senior. The exposure to hospitals may have inclined him toward nursing, but it wasn’t until recent years that Hawk realized he had what many nurses refer to as “the calling.” His first dream as a young man was to become an actor and move to Hollywood.
“I was 21. What did I know?” Hawk said. Today, he’s entrenched in the nursing profession as an assistant clinical professor in the acute care practitioner program at the University of California, San Francisco, and as a nurse practitioner in trauma services at San Francisco General Hospital.
There, he’s seen the gender roles in health care shift. He’s had days in the trauma center when the nurses on duty were all men and the doctors all women. But Hawk and other nurses still see cultural biases against men becoming nurses. Many people assume all male nurses are gay, Hawk said, and that they weren’t good enough to get into medical school.
“There are very few guidance counselors who tell a boy, ‘You can grow up to be a nurse,’ ” said Richard Martin, MSN, RN, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Hoag Memorial Presbyterian Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif.