Many people who meet William Lecher, RN, MS, MBA, NE-BC, president of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing, may not know that his first career taught him how to use jackhammers, climb scaffolding and pour cement.
In fact, he was such a strong leader within a construction crew in Wisconsin that he became the foreman. After eight years in construction, however, Lecher began reconsidering his career path. He realized that the heavy labor would be challenging as his body aged, and construction jobs were increasingly difficult to find as the national economy slowed during the recession in the early 1980s.
Lecher decided to take a vocational assessment test, and nursing was one of four careers that surfaced as a possible match for his skills and interests.
“I didn’t give it serious thought at first, but then I had a conversation with an uncle who was a psychologist,” Lecher said. “He said that if he had it to do all over, he’d be an RN. As a nurse there are so many areas of practice, the income is good and you can get a job in any city in the country.”
These words changed the course of Lecher’s life. He went on to pursue a nursing degree and is currently the senior clinical director at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He is halfway through his second term as president of the AAMN.
“One of the reasons I accepted the role of president is because I have a personal interest in helping more guys know what a great career nursing is,” he said. “I want other men to know that they can do this, too. The job opportunities, variety and career mobility and development are excellent.”
During Lecher’s term, the AAMN has been strategic in its efforts to become a more visible professional nursing organization. The AAMN updated its website and created an online store to allow nurses to become members through the Web. The organization also dedicated financial resources to support local chapters as they ventured into the community for activities such as career days and men’s health screenings.
In the past six years, the AAMN has experienced unprecedented growth. The group had about 200 members six years ago, and its membership has grown to more than 1,200 members. There were six chapters nationwide in 2006, and now there are 56, Lecher explained.
“The legacy I’d like to leave behind is that AAMN would truly be better known by all nurses in our country, and the name and the brand would have tremendous respect,” Lecher said. “I talk to nurses all the time who say they’ve never heard about us.”
Lecher’s goal during his last term is to prepare the AAMN to sustain the growth it has experienced during the last several years, but he acknowledges that this will be difficult if the organization continues to be primarily a volunteer-run group.
“Board members, while very engaged, do it as volunteers,” he said. “They all have day jobs that are their first priority, and elected volunteers typically leave at the end of their term. My goal is to be able to have a funding stream to pay full-time staff members who can drive the operations of the organization and focus on the recruitment and retention of our members. Until we get a bigger membership base and the associated revenue, this will be difficult to afford.”
Lecher is also eager to encourage more women to join the organization. “We really wouldn’t want the AAMN to be seen as an organization for men only,” he said. “We are the American Assembly FOR Men in Nursing, not OF Men in Nursing. There are a lot of women who believe the profession should be more gender inclusive and balanced. Our women members bring an important different perspective.”
Historically about 10% of the board members have been women, and 7% of the members are women. For women, a motivation for joining the AAMN may be a desire to improve the health outcomes of men, which is one of the organization’s priorities.
“Men’s health outcomes continue to be worse than women’s in many areas, and almost all women have a male significant other — brother, dad or son — and for this reason women probably do not want to see these disproportionate outcomes,” he said.
A mentor for the mentor
Although Lecher has an affinity for leadership roles whether he is in construction, nursing school, the hospital setting or the AAMN, one reason for his success is a willingness to seek out mentors who both support and challenge him.
One of Lecher’s most valuable mentors has been a man he spoke to for the first time in 2008. Lecher was serving as AAMN’s membership and chapters chairperson when he was looking for people interested in promoting gender diversity. A fellow man in nursing recommended that he call Michael Bleich, RN, PhD, FAAN, who at the time was dean of Oregon Health Sciences University School of Nursing.
“I was surprised when Bleich said right away ‘You are right. Gender diversity is important, and it is time that I make a commitment to men in nursing, and I will help you.'” Bleich not only formed a new chapter of the AAMN in Oregon but eventually invited Lecher and two of his board members to represent the AAMN in a project that would later make a significant impact throughout the nation — the Institute of Medicine’s “The Future of Nursing” report.
“Michael is genuine, incredibly kind to everybody and will challenge anyone on any topic that needs to be challenged,” Lecher said. “In fact, he is the one who questioned me about whether the rate of AAMN growth would be sustainable with just volunteers.”
Although Lecher is eager to continue promoting the career path of nursing to more men, he is aware that this message will spread exponentially faster if the AAMN’s board and chapters have a broader base of support. He makes this appeal to men in the profession who are not members of the assembly. “Become part of the AAMN,” he said. “Both students and professional nurses, be part of our movement and join us. The more members we have, the greater impact we can make.
“Together we can help the AAMN become known across the country as a credible voice for men in nursing and a leader in improving the health of Americans.”