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Hospitals Campaign to Recruit Male Nurses - 2003-01-11

Walk into the lobby of Box Butte General, and the first thing you see is a life-sized cardboard display featuring the medical facility's four male nurses and information brochures about nursing as a career. Hospital official Jane McConkey, who came up with the idea, said she wants to reach as many people as she can during the one-and-a-half-year-long campaign.

"I was thinking how can we get more people into the nursing profession and in maybe an untapped area where we really, nursing's been female dominated for most of its history, and there is only about five percent of the total RN population that is male," she said.

Possibly the biggest reason for such a low number of male nurses, is the stigma attached to it. Men in the healthcare profession typically become doctors. A man who chooses to be a nurse is often looked upon with suspicion or even scorn.

In movies, like the 2000 comedy Meet the Parents, in which a nurse meets his future in laws for the first time, men in the profession are good for a laugh.

Father-in-law: "You know, Greg's in medicine too, Larry.
Larry: Oh really? What field?
Greg: Ah, nursing.
Larry: That's good! No, really, what field?
Greg: Nursing.

Ben Andrick has gotten that same reaction since he began working at Box Butte General Hospital two years ago. He said the stigma attached to being a male nurse is not as prevalent inside the hospital as it is outside of work.

"You get some eyebrows that are raised, but from the patients and the people in the hospital they say the male nurses are better," he said. "I think the only time I think I had difficulty was in the OB wards, the nurses there pretty much let me know that this was a woman's world, but for patient-care unit, I didn't have any difficulty at all."

Mr. Andrick used to be a mechanic and work construction jobs in California but sometimes business was slow. The classified ads always had job postings for nurses, but he said embarrassment about what people might think if he became a nurse held him back for a long time.

"I did a lot of job shadowing in different other occupations, and I job shadowed behind a male nurse that worked in a cancer ward," he said. "And I saw that I could do this, you know that that stigma... once you are there ... it doesn't exist as much as it does, you know, on the outside on how it is viewed."

Changing 'how it's viewed' is what Jane McConkey wants the "Boys to Men to Nurses" campaign to do. Along with the display in the hospital lobby, the campaign uses public service announcements and educational outreach. The message that boys can be nurses, too, is getting out through the public library's story hour for preschoolers and presentations to area schools, as well as Boy Scout troops and other youth groups. Ms. McConkey said educating kids at the earliest age possible is one of the keys to breaking the stereotype.

"Perceptions start young, so if children are going to have gender biased ideas as far as what careers are acceptable, those ideas start when they are pretty young." Ms. McConkey explained.

Ms. McConkey said young boys need to know that not only is nursing an acceptable career option, it also pays well. Incentives and student loan payback opportunities are common in many hospitals. At Box Butte General, the salary for a registered nurse starts at more than $16 an hour, with a $2,000 signing bonus for a two year commitment. Nurse Ron Brown said he's able to raise a family on what he earns.

"The wages are very competitive, granted they aren't as high as sitting at a computer in an office or something, you can probably make more money, but I don't see the reward there like you do in nursing, the people that you affect everyday," he said. "You see them on the street after you take care of them, a lot of times you have to look at them sideways, because when you see these people in the hospital they are laying down."

Ron Brown says when his son was younger he was reluctant to tell his friends what his dad did for a living. But now, Mr. Brown says, that's changed as his son gained a better understanding of what nurses do and realized that it is not such a big deal that his father is a nurse. With the help of campaigns like "Boys to Men to Nurses," Mr. Brown hopes that society, like his son, will also change its perception of male nurses.