For male nurses, stigma no barrier

(Highlands Today) Nursing is still a profession in which men find themselves in the minority, but their numbers are growing.

Although the percentage of men in nursing has doubled over the past 25 years, men currently comprise only 6 percent of nurses, yet make up nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population, according to Men in Nursing, a professional journal for male nurses.

“Many have identified men as an untapped resource that could scale back the nursing shortage predicted to grow to 29 percent by 2020,” the journal stated. “Labor experts feel nursing is the top occupation for job growth for the next decade.”

The American Assembly for Men in Nursing’s goal is to have 20 percent male enrollment in nursing programs throughout the United States and the world by the year 2020.

“Men currently represent about 6.6 percent of the U.S. nursing workforce. However, the percentage of men in baccalaureate and master’s nursing programs are 11.4 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively,” according to magazine.

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Patrick Hickey, 42, of Sebring, is the nursing supervisor at the Highlands County Health Department, and is the tuberculosis nurse for Highlands County.

He’s been in nursing for 18 years; four of those at the Health Department, and supervises four female nurses or aides on any given day; no males.

“There were 10 males in my graduating class out of 130 students,” he said. He graduated from East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

“I was offered jobs before I even had my license,” he said. “…I was a staff nurse for about six months then went into management and it pretty much stayed that way.”

He enjoys what he does because every day is different.

“Working with people in general is always a mixed bag,” he said. “I was always interested in medical and how the body works; and animals. In my childhood I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

He was encouraged by his family and friends to be a nurse, and no one ever said anything negative about it.

“I’m not a small guy,” he joked. “Maybe people just kept their opinions to themselves.”

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South Florida State College and Azure College have nursing programs to train and prepare Practical Nursing and Registered Nursing students for the state boards, known as the National Council Licensure Examination.

Last year South Florida Community College graduated seven males and 26 females from its RN program, and three males and 21 females from its LPN program. The school graduated 11 males per year the two years before, said Christopher D. van der Kaay, chief information officer.

The LPN program was established at South Florida Junior College in 1975, said Michele D. Heston, director of nursing at SFSC. An LPN-Associate Degree Nursing-transition program was launched in 1984.

“After nearly a decade of nursing success, a third program, the traditional associate degree nursing program, was established in 1993,” she said.

Azure College’s Sebring campus will have its first graduating class in June. It also has campuses in Boca Raton and Miami.

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At Florida Hospital, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Donna Snyder said that over the 10 years she has been there, she’s seen an increase in male nurses coming to the hospital, and male nurses in general.

“Over the past 10 years we’ve hired 10 to 12 new graduates each year,” she said. “The first five years I was here I saw no male nurses in those new graduate classes. Now we never hire 10 new grads without at least two of them being male nurses.”

The hospital has more and more experienced male nurses applying for jobs, she said.

Male nurses work in all units on both campuses except obstetrics, but only because none applied, she said.

People were concerned the patients may not want male nurses taking care of them, she said. “… I have never had a patient say they did not want to be cared for by a male nurse,” she said. “They are very well organized, very compassionate and very caring.”

At this time, 17.8 percent of the hospital’s nursing staff is male, Marketing Director Cathy Albritton said Thursday.

Highlands Regional Medical Center did not respond by press time.

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Born in Cambridge, Ohio, Josh Birch, 29, of Wauchula, is currently enrolled in the SFSC RN program.

He spent eight years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a corporal, and served in Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood and even South Korea, he said.

“I never really considered being a nurse,” he said Wednesday. “I did some medical stuff in the military; not as my job. My job was in communications and computer engineering, but I did do the combat lifesavers course.

“That basically just lets you start IVs and a little more first aid,” he said.

When he left the Army he and his wife, Heather, 28, were expecting a baby. Their son Dade, now 5, was about two months premature after an emergency cesarean section; and that’s also when Birch’s interest in nursing was born.

“The EMTs took her to Orlando,” he said. “We spent a lot of time in the hospital because of how premature he was … I was in the hospital 24-hours-a-day watching what the nurses do … and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

There are more advanced practices and nursing fields. He already is working as an LPN and is an RN in transition, but plans to specialize.

“I’m leaning toward anesthesia,” he said. “I want to be a CRNA — a certified registered nurse anesthetist. They work under the anesthesiologist. You can do it with a master’s degree. … ”

He met Heather in Cambridge, Ohio, and will return to Ohio to work in critical care at Ohio State University Hospital and finish his bachelor’s degree. All his family is there.

What he likes best about nursing is seeing someone who was sick recover and be discharged.

“Don’t do it for the money, or job security,” Birch advised, although nurses are well paid. “Do it because you genuinely care and you really want to help people.”

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Nursing student Eric Gilliard, 23, of Wauchula, also attends the SFSC RN program. He became interested in nursing because of a childhood health issue.

“I was diagnosed with diabetes at 2-years-old, so I’ve always been around a lot of medical stuff, obviously,” he said. ” … My great grandfather was a doctor.”

He used his graduation money and paid for his own tuition and books, he said. “Everything I’ve done has been focused toward nursing,” he said.

His goal is to attend the University of South Florida’s nurse anesthetist program.

Gilliard knew Birch from the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR), a brain and spinal cord injury facility, where Birch was his supervisor in the pediatric unit.

“That was my first job out of high school,” Gilliard said. “I was there for two years as an RSA; that’s residential services assistant.”

He left there and went to school at the DeSoto County School of Practical Nursing, where he received his LPN training, and eventually returned to FINR. He works with two other male nurses — everybody else is female.

Gilliard is single, but didn’t get into nursing to meet women; he has a girlfriend. Being around so many women isn’t a problem.

“In my LPN school we had me and one other guy,” he said. “So I’m kind of used to the estrogen, I guess you could say.”

At the school Birch and Gilliard were the only males in the RN program. There were three in the LPN class, which graduates Thursday.

“I’m seeing more and more males showing an interest in nursing,” Gilliard said. “The whole stigma of only females become nurses is starting to die down. Don’t be intimidated.”

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Azure College’s branch campus, located at 2940 U.S. 27 S., in Sebring, started its nursing classes on May 29, with 70 students, according to Debra Snyder, executive assistant to the president and financial director.

Out of the 70, only 9 or 10 are male; five are in the day class and the balance in the evening class. The school offers LPN, RN-2 associate’s degree and RN-3 bachelor’s degree classes.

“It’s what we call our one-plus-one-plus-one program,” she said. “In three years you have your bachelor’s degree.”

The school has two labs for hands-on training with mannequins, and has seven clinical partners, she said.

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David Lavan II, 50, of Avon Park, will be 51 Monday and is enrolled at Azure in its RN-1 class —which is its LPN program. He plans going through to RN-3.

He entered the U.S. Navy for six years; four years aboard the USS Detroit, doing electrical work while deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. Ronald Regan was president. Since then he’s been an electrician and an electrical contractor, he said.

“Then, I was an instructor in electrical theory in the code,” he said. “I taught at South Florida Community College when I moved back here. I also taught in Virginia for 10 years.”

He moved back to Florida with his wife Yvonne, who is an RN. He and his wife decided that he should study to become a nurse, he said.

“I do not have an advanced degree; this bachelor’s will be my first,” he said. “In September they’ll be seeing us out in the community. That’s when they do clinicals.”

He still has the teaching bug.

“I’m more interested in my bachelor’s because I’d like to teach,” he said. “I enjoyed teaching … What’s funny is when I was teaching electrical they were trying to get women into that field.”

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Craig Beaudry II, 19, of Sebring, was born in Tampa and lived there until age 2, when his family moved to Avon Park. He’s lived in Sebring about 10 years but graduated from Avon Park High School because he lives in The Crossings.

He works at Little Caesar’s Pizza in Sebring and volunteers at Florida Hospital in the cath-lab alongside his mother who is also an RN.

“My dad does hospice work,” he said. “… He’s a nurse; he’s an LPN.”

Beaudry II wants to be a nurse because it is one of the best ways he can help people, he said. “My parents both do it. I figure I can kind of be involved in that too,” he said.

How does he feel about entering a female-dominated field?

“Without discrimination there is enough room for us to fit in there, too,” he said. “Yeah, there are a lot more females in this orientation than men.”

He found a lot of students were trying to get into nursing, but their grade point average can be a factor.

“Here you kind of just sign up and go; it just seemed to work out better,” he said. “It’s a good program from what I can tell so far.”

He has an “awesome instructor” in nurse Mary Ann Fry, he said.

Fry has about 54 years experience, said Debra Snyder, with Azure.

“We were truly blessed to have gotten her,” she said. “Fifty-four years of knowledge is something you can’t buy.”

The class ends in April and the pinning and graduation for his class will be in June.