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A tribute to men in nursing

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I was inspired to pay tribute to the men of nursing after reading this recent comment from one of our brothers in the profession:

I am a nursing student, and about the “man card” thing. I am a former Corporal in the Marine Corps infantry. I first got interested in healthcare in Iraq doing combat medicine, like taking care of bullet wounds, burns, and fragment wounds from IEDs. I know who I am and if someone gives me a hard time about being a nursing student, it just show me that they are overcompensating for something. As long as I am providing for my wife and son, I don’t care what other people think. I want to be a flight nurse because I like working in high-pressure jobs.

First, THANK YOU for serving, Corporal!

Second, does everyone realize just how new women are to nursing? Particularly trained, educated women from all walks of life?

2000 years ago, nursing school was for men only!

Most of the first nurses in recorded history were members of male religious orders. Many hospitals still bear their names. Some are even canonized as Saints.

When Florence went to Scutari in the Crimean War, she had to integrate her nurses into a system in which only MEN had cared for other soldiers. So men were the first military nurses–in part because only men were permitted to serve in the Army. Also, Victorian beliefs did not permit close physical contact between persons of the opposite sex unless they were married.

During the Civil War, more women worked on the front lines caring for the wounded. Many of these nurses were private citizens whose homes stood on the battlefields and had been pressed into service at field hospitals. Able-bodied men were needed for the fighting. The names that we recall from history–Clara Barton, Mary Ann Bickerdyke, and Dorothea Dix–were mostly volunteers who simply managed to outlast the doctors who opposed them.

During the two World Wars of the 20th century, men were still the only battlefield nurses, while women served in hospitals and on ships. The same continues today. The difference is that a field medic is more of a surgeon who administers lifesaving treatment according to protocols and does not have to wait for a specific order from an MD. He does not have time to wait for orders, as he is working within that Golden first hour of trauma care which makes the difference between life and limb.

Somewhere in the Baby Boomer generation, nursing became known as a “womens’ profession.” It seemed that nobody remembered that it was a male domain for most of its existence! (Perhaps it was the sexy white uniforms and caps that did it?)

The few men who bothered to attend nursing school in the latter part of the 20th century had to put up with all sorts of restrictions: they weren’t allowed in the delivery rooms when a woman was “exposed” (although male doctors were!); they had to have a female “escort” for performing catheterizations; and they were barred from certain clinical areas, like labor and delivery.

And, of course, there is the sexual assumption that became pervasive in the late 1970’s–“He’s a nurse? Well, he must be gay!” I have no doubt that most of our guys have been subjected to this. Isn’t it odd that we never seem to make the same assumption about women? (“A female doctor? She must be a lesbian!”)

Hang in there, Marine! This profession needs a Few MORE Good Men such as yourself. I wish you “fair winds and following seas” as you move forward in your career.

And, as always, Semper Fi!

        “But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother”…   -William Shakespeare, Henry V

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Nurse Rene

Nurse Rene has been an RN since 1978; CCRN since 1989 and attained a BSN in 2010. She has worked in virtually every specialty from Neonatology to Neurosurgery and is a Member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society with a particular interest in helping students and new grads develop to their full potential. She's been married for 33 years and has a keen interest in history and in current issues as nursing continues to develop as a Real Profession. When not spoiling the grandchildren, she enjoys sewing, cooking, kayaking, camping and travel. She likes all music which does not hurt her ears, watching NCIS, Leverage, Top Gear and Criminal Minds and reads books written by Clive Cussler, Miss Manners, Erma Bombeck and Tom Clancy. She enjoys collecting Quotations for use in her writings.
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11 Responses to A tribute to men in nursing

  1. VirginiaMale RN

    Founded in 1974, the mission of American Assembly for Men in Nursing is to provide a framework for nurses, as a group, to meet, to discuss and influence factors which affect men as nurses. Members of AAMN have a voice in local, state and national events that impact nursing and male nurses. We are the only national nursing organization dedicated to men in nursing!

    • Nurse Rene RN

      The sad part is that most nurses have never heard of your organization.

  2. stevo7762

    I sometimes get the assumption from my patient’s that I’m a doctor because I’m male. I have a name badge that clearly says RN after my name.

  3. malenurse RN

    Hi . I am a male nurse and I graduated on 1976 in Africa. In 1973 ,in my classeroom ,we were 42 boys and 8 girls . In every country, the reality of life commande the needs. With a little patience , here is my history.
    I graduated as an RN in 1976 in Senegal, an African country. Being a nurse in Senegal is very different than being a nurse in the United States. During my time, most nurses there were men, and were generally sent to rural areas where serious public heath challenges awaited.
    I went into the interior of the country, and for 8 years, I managed a Health Center covering 50 square miles.
    At that time we had a ratio of one doctor for 10.000 people or more. That left me to handle the entire healthcare needs of the community : prevention, hygiene, mother/child, nutrition, medication, training, emergency response, obstetric, minor surgery for men or even cattle if needed! I remember sewing a poor horse’s lung which had been pierced by a mean bull horn.
    I can’t recall how many times I was awoken in the middle of the night to assist someone in need. I was pulled out of a soccer game to revive a kid who had fallen into a coma from malaria. I remember a mother carrying her son a great distance on her back, with the entire village behind her, trying to get help after he swallowed a metal coin and was gasping for air. At those moments you depend on God more than on your training.
    After going back to university for a bachelors degree, I taught at the national nursing school in my country’s capital, for four years. I was delighted to share my experience and knowledge.
    In 1989 I came to the U.S., in part because I felt I had accomplished everything I could in terms of education and healthcare in my country.
    When I arrived, I had a big surprise when I realized how hard it would be to survive, to take care of my loved ones back home and to transfer my nursing education here. I was completely lost! No papers, no job, no understanding of the language, other than my high school English.
    I pulled up my sleeves and worked as a desk clerk and security guard at night, and sold t-shirts on the street during the day. I was making $160 dollars a week, spending $60 and saving $100.

    I had to learn English on my own by listening and reading whatever I could and by watching “The Honeymooners” every night for a year! I was able to become a cab driver, but that experience ended when I was high jacked at gun point. I then sold fabric across the country. During those challenging times my dreams started becoming fuzzy and my vision of being a nurse blurred.
    I was not able to go back and see my family, and I missed being a nurse, because that is who I am!
    After getting my green card in 1994, I became a CNA and began providing home health care on private duty.
    I became LPN at 1995. Now, the air I breathed got cleaner and my eyes became shinier. I was again a nurse! I was hired in 2002 by Silvercrest Care Center and first became an 1199 member, with my sights still set on becoming an RN again.
    I took the test to get into an RN program several times, studied countless review books and attended many seminaries without success. I needed help to prepare.

    After telling my dilemma to my Union organizer, she directed me to the 1199 SEIU Training Fund site in Brooklyn. I was told about a Training Fund program that was exactly what I was looking for.
    In January I, along with my co-worker, and 11 other lucky nurses, were accepted into the Home Care Fund’s Foreign Born RN Program at Lehman College.
    Going to school was not easy, while working nearly full-time. Sometimes I wouldn’t get to see my kids for 2-3 days at a time, but I kept motivated the whole time by my lovely wife, We completed the program in December 2008. For the entire time of my education with the 1199 Fund, the only money I had to come up with was subway fare to get to class———–this was a dream!
    I took the NCLEX exam immediately after my program ended, and went to Africa the next day to give a big hug to my aging Mom and pay respect at my Dad’s grave. I received the good news there among my love ones who shared my joy.
    Once again, as a Registered Nurse!
    In the future it is my dream to get my masters in Public Health .
    I would not end this without mentioning this —I received my first RN degree in my country when I was 23 and my second RN degree at 56 year old. After 33 years, I am still aiming at my Masters in public health!
    Thanks.

    • Nurse Rene RN

      Your story is an inspiration to all who gripe about how hard it is to work as a Nurse here in the U. S., with clean, well-supplied facilities AND easy access to all. Best of Luck with your ongoing education. Thank you for sharing!

    • bennie RN

      I RESPECT THIS POST A LOT….
      I AM ALSO A MALE NURSE WITH A SPECIALTY IN ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY..I GRADUATED IN NIGERIA AND BECAUSE OF THE KIND OF SOCIETY WE LIVE IN HERE, I HAVE FOUND MYSELF WITH A LOT OF RESPONSIBILITY BOTH IN AND OUT OF THE HOSPITAL SETTING..I NEVER FOR ONCE REGRETTED BEING A NURSE SINCE I GRADUATED 2007 AS AN RN AND 2009 AS A REGISTERED ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY NURSE..
      I INTEND GOING FOR MY BSN AND ALSO A MSN IN ANAESTHETICS, AND A PHD TO CROWN IT ALL. SO I CAN ALSO TRANSFER MY KNOWLEDGE TO THE UPCOMING NURSES.
      MORE OF POSTS LIKE YOURS WILL INSPIRE YOUNG NURSES LIKE US.
      THANKS.

  4. CriticalcareKansas RN

    Excellent article. A lot of us male nurses are military veterans. Especially in ICU. I was also a Corporal in the US Marine Corps in the 1980’s, before graduating from nursing school in December of 1990. I’ve experienced all of the things you mentioned in my 21 years as a nurse, including the guy with the room temperature IQ who told me “You’ll make someone a very good wife someday” as I was puttinig clean sheets on the bed so we could admit his wife to the ICU. (My charge nurse dragged me out of the room because she thought I was going to slug him!) My man card has never been in doubt because I know who I am also. Whatever you may experience in your career, just keep maintaining your dignity and self respect. They can’t take that away from you. Hang in there, Brother! Semper Fi.

    Has anyone else been lowered on their performance evaluation, by an older female nurse manager, for “not behaving enough like a woman”?

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  6. AaronLPN LPN

    Us men in nusring (I hate the term “male nurse” as if we are some inferior sub genre) still have a ways to go. I have had it happen to me and I have seen it happen to other guys too: He’s a man, so obviouslly he has anger issues, is aggresive and violent (it is called be assertive which is not just for the ladies.) He is incapable of providing emotional support. He’s a bully. He thinks he’s “all that.” He can fix that, he’s a man! You think becasue you’re a man that makes you right and me a femal I’m always wrong? He must be gay! He must be a pervert! You must hate women ( a favourite when standing up to female bullies.). You all know the rubbish and insulting stereotypes. We’ve come a long way fella’s but we’ve got a long way to go yet.

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