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On second thought: Men are making the move into nursing

Growth and change are part of life. And in life’s long journey, sometimes a person’s first choice for a fulfilling career might not seem like the right path five, 10 or 15 years down the line.

Take trumpet player Ricardo San Jose. He was talented enough to earn a full-ride music scholarship to the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., and before long San Jose caught the attention of a national reggae band. He joined the Supervillains in 2002 and loved the life of a musician — performing at sold-out concerts around the world with popular bands.

Three years ago, however, he decided to relinquish his coveted spot in the band to start nursing school. Although leaving the band was the hardest thing he has ever done, his decision to make a major career change was sealed after he witnessed the role of nurses when his father was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I saw the nurses treat my family with dignity and respect,” San Jose said. “They had the most impact on patient care, and I wanted to do that. They gave us hope and honesty and explained the purpose of different tests, what to expect and the side effects of the treatments. They felt like an extension of my family.”

In December, San Jose, who acknowledges that his choice to change careers was influenced by a change in values that began at age 30, will graduate from a concurrent ASN/BSN program offered through a partnership between the University of Central Florida and Seminole State College in Florida. His time in nursing school has only confirmed his decision. “The feeling I get when I help a patient or family is much more gratifying than the adulation I got from performing on the stage,” he said. “I’m also happier because I have job security. I know I will have a lifelong career, and music does not offer that.”

San Jose will be joining the RN workforce at a time when the percentage of men in nursing is higher than it has ever been. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.6% of the RNs in the U.S. in 2011 were men — compared to 5.7% in 1990 and 4.1% in 1980. The percentage of men enrolled in nursing schools nationally is even higher than the percentage of men in the workforce, which suggests that the numbers will continue to increase. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 12.2% of students enrolled in entry-level BSN programs in 2012 were men.

William Lecher, RN, MS, MBA, NE-BC, president of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing, suggests men who choose nursing as a second career often fall into one of two categories.

“They may be older and feeling like their first college degree isn’t working out very well, and at this point they have more self-confidence and comfort with their masculinity, so they are not bothered by the fact that nursing is a predominantly female profession,” Lecher said. “Other men are those who have worked even longer and have had to deal with frequent job changes due to recessions or the economy. They may have known they always had an aptitude for science, and healthcare has less downsizing and better job security.”

Increasing the male presence

Although the percentage of men in nursing has increased in the last several decades, Lecher suggests that nursing schools need to make it a higher priority to recruit and retain men.

“The number of men in the nursing workforce has increased threefold in 40 years,” said Lecher, who is senior clinical director at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “It is disappointing that it took us 40 years to get from 2.7% to 9.6%. Men make up about half of all patients, and I believe improved gender diversity in the RN workforce would help improve the health outcomes of American men.”

To encourage men to enter the nursing profession, the AAMN launched the “20 X 20: Choose-Nursing” recruitment initiative, which aims for 20% male enrollment in nursing schools by 2020. The program includes a website with links to recruitment posters and schools that have been recognized by the AAMN for recruiting and retaining men in their programs.

David Vlahov, RN, PhD, dean and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing is actively working to recruit men. “It starts with having men in leadership positions that set the example and communicate by their presence that this is a great profession,” Vlahov said. “That is one of the reasons I took on the deanship.”

UCSF sends men in the profession to college and high school outreach events hosted by the AAMN, and Vlahov also attends job fairs to speak to people who are considering nursing. This year the male enrollment at UCSF was 13.5%, and the number of men in the second-degree program was more than 33%, he said.

Ovecoming reservations

Although second-career men in nursing are often highly motivated when they make the decision to change careers, there still can be fears about entering a female-dominated profession.

“I was worried about the stereotypes, such as patients assuming I am homosexual or assuming I should be a woman,” said Tristan Frolich, who is in the accelerated BSN program at the University of Washington in Seattle. “I wondered how I would interact with a teen female patient and whether I would be able to relate to fellow students.”

Frolich was willing to take the risk in spite of these fears because he was disillusioned with the architecture industry. “Architecture turned out to be a job sitting in front of a computer every day and dealing with difficult clients who were bickering about costs and ideas, and it wasn’t very fulfilling,” he said. “People make money by cutting corners in construction, and it was not something I wanted to surround myself with. I wanted to do something to make a difference.”

Even though he is one of two male students in a class of 44, his concerns about being a male nurse have virtually disappeared. “I have made many close friends and that is a testament to them,” he said. “The women treat us the same as everyone else, and I have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from patients.”

Rather than being a liability, John Lyons, a student in the accelerated second-degree program at Adelphi University College of Nursing and Public Health in New York, has discovered that it can be an asset to be a man in nursing. “There is such a demand for men,” said Lyons, who previously worked in human resources for the New York Islanders professional ice hockey team. “I think it is a positive when going through the admissions process, and it can give us a leg up in starting a career.”

Although there are benefits to breaking the gender barrier, Lyons acknowledges that there can still be moments that remind him he is a minority. “Sometimes patients ask me why I decided to become a male nurse, and I laugh because I didn’t decide to become a male nurse — just a nurse,” he said. “You realize it is not [about] being a man or woman, but the right person to be a nurse. Helping people is what it’s really all about. The best part is watching patients through their hospital stay and seeing them get better and leave. I tell patients it’s not that I don’t want to see you again, I just don’t want to see you in the hospital.”

By | 2013-07-24T00:00:00-04:00 July 24th, 2013|Categories: National|0 Comments

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