While nursing is still a predominantly female profession, more men are working in the profession these days. That’s a good thing, according to the landmark Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Future of Nursing Report that was released in 2010.
The report called for more gender and race/ethnic diversity in nursing, saying that it would help improve the quality of patient care.
While men account for only 6.6 percent of the nursing work force , the percentage of men attending baccalaureate nursing programs is 11.4 percent, according to a 2011 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) would like to see those numbers increase and for nursing to become more of a gender-neutral field. The organization has launched an initiative called “20 x 20 Choose-Nursing,” which has a goal of increasing male enrollment in nursing programs to 20 percent by 2020.
Work force experts suggest that some of the reasons more men have been attracted to nursing are the job stability, flexibility and multiple career paths in the field, particularly in this economy . They also note that gender roles have blurred, making it less of a stigma for a man to be a nurse or a woman to be a plumber.
A 2005 AAMN study found that the primary reason men choose nursing is a strong desire to help people. Like their female counterparts, many men feel called to the profession. Here are three men who answered that call and recently started working as nurses.
JAMIE TINKER, CHILDREN’S HEALTHCARE OF ATLANTA AT EGLESTON
For Jamie Tinker, the birth of his nephew spurred a 180-degree career change from software developer to nurse.
“He was born at 27 weeks and spent 64 days in a NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] in Chattanooga. Seeing how the nurses cared for him was inspiring,” said Tinker, RN, BSN.
One of six men in his nursing class at Emory University, Tinker, 40, was hired last May to work in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
“One advantage to being a male in the NICU is that I can make fathers feel more comfortable. They feel out of place and seem relieved that there’s a guy they can talk to about what’s going on,” Tinker said.
One of only two men who work in the unit, Tinker said his supervisors often start announcements with “ladies and Jamie…” but they say it with a smile.
“The staff here really wants me to succeed and they have totally welcomed me. We’re a team. It’s family,” he said. “I think the stigma of being a male nurse is finally diminishing. My family and friends thought nursing was a great idea for me and were totally supportive.”
Tinker believes he has been spared from some of the gender stigma issues that male nurses from previous generations faced because society and nursing are changing.
“Nurses have more of a voice in patient care than they did in the past. Our doctors sit down with us after rounds and ask for our input. It’s a collaborative effort and our knowledge is valued,” he said.
Tinker chose to pursue the profession because he wanted to do something that made him feel good and he wanted to help people.
“The emotional challenges can take a toll on you, but I love being there for babies and their families,” he said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than sending a baby home and knowing you helped teach his parents how to care for him. Nursing is a great career.”
LEWIS OLAOLUWA, GRADY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
Compassion and caring are often considered female traits, but Lewis Olaoluwa doesn’t see it that way.
“I have a lot of relatives in health care, and being compassionate seems to come naturally for me,” said Olaoluwa, 26. “A nurse has to be willing to engage people. Feeling and being there for people isn’t hard.”
The hard part was getting through nursing school at Barry University in Florida and starting his career two years ago at Grady Memorial Hospital’s burn unit.
“You have to really understand burns and have the stomach to deal with them,” said Olaoluwa, BSN, RN, CCRN. “But Grady is a great first job experience. Because of the variety of trauma we get, we say that if you can work here you can work anywhere.”
Olaoluwa likes the fast-paced, high-intensity environment of the burn unit.
His biggest challenges are to trying to improve the outcomes of patients with large burns and helping their families understand and cope with the situation.
Olaoluwa sees differences in how men and women handle situations at work.
“I learned in nursing school that male and female nurses approach things differently,” Olaoluwa said. “We’re more direct and blunt when it comes to discussing issues, for instance, but the standard of care is the same. In a burn unit you have to work as a team. You can’t be a loner and do the job.”
Olaoluwa is looking to the future. He recently completed critical care nurse certification and plans to become a nurse anesthetist.
“With nursing, the boundaries are limitless,” he said. “If I want to leave the bedside, I could go into administration, case management or home health. Even though I think most people expect nurses to be female and they refer to me as 'male’ nurse, I see myself always staying in this profession.”
JACOB WELKER, DEKALB MEDICAL
Jacob Welker, who graduated from nursing school in June and works in the intensive care unit at DeKalb Medical, couldn’t be happier. His only regret is that it took so long to find his passion.
Welker’s first career was in finance for health care organizations. Nurses at a hospice facility told him he’d make a good nurse, but he wasn’t sure he was up to the required training and the physical and emotional demands of the job.
“But the more I talked with them, the more I felt pulled in that direction. I was working 10 hours a day and it wasn’t fulfilling,” said Welker, RN, ADN. “Now, at the end of the day, I leave knowing that I’ve helped someone when they needed it most, and that’s very rewarding.”
Welker, who has been diagnosed with severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was challenged by classroom lectures but has flourished in critical care, where female preceptors and male mentors have used a hands-on approach in showing him the ropes.
“Critical care is a hyper, always-running, always-expecting-the-unexpected world, which suits me well,” he said. “I don’t like routine and I love researching, digging into new situations and getting to know different technologies. I think I’d be bored elsewhere, but the learning curve is steep that first year.”
Welker, 42, has learned plenty during his first year as a nurse.
“Nursing students learn book know-ledge, but that isn’t the real world,” he said. “As a new nurse, you’re often unsure of what to do next, wondering if you’re doing it right. Every minute you are there demands critical thinking. School prepared me, but now I feel like I’m really learning what it means to be an ICU nurse.”
Welker draws support from his team and from the six other men who work in intensive care.
“They are all ages and they teach me a lot. As nurses, they all bring something different to the table,” he said.
For the most part, Welker has been accepted by his peers and his patients, and he has found great satisfaction in his work.
When asked to advise prospective male nurses, he said, “If it’s truly your passion, don’t let anything stand in your way. Doing what makes you happy, for the right reasons. That’s all that matters.”