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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