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Men in Nursing
It's a word, and a profession, that as much as any other conjures a specific image in your mind. Matt LeBlanc '13 is probably not that typical image of a nurse. The recent Curry College graduate works with cardiac surgery patients at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. and is one of a growing number of men pursuing careers in nursing. They are drawn by plentiful job opportunities, competitive salaries, and opportunities for advancement. Men may still be a minority, but two members of the Curry College faculty are working to change this, hoping that more young men like LeBlanc will consider a career that would have been unlikely a couple of decades ago.
Professors Dr. Don Anderson and Dr. Susan LaRocco have been teaching together at Curry for the past decade, with LaRocco also serving as the program coordinator for traditional undergraduate nursing students. Both are members of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN), and have spent much of their careers researching why men historically have not chosen careers in nursing, and pursuing ways to attract more men to the profession.
It's something that has its roots in the 1950s and 1960s, when Dr. LaRocco says many nursing schools refused to even admit men.
Dr. Anderson believes the root of the problem likely begins at an early age- when children are taught that only women can be nurses.
"When you look at kids in kindergarten, they're always talking about boys being doctors and girls being nurses. That's not so much true anymore," Dr. Anderson says. "50 percent of medical school graduates are now female. But that's not the case in nursing. I think that media has really perpetuated that role of women being the major care giver for nursing."
Dr. LaRocco agrees that perception is the main issue.
"There are very few barriers. The barriers are truly the emotional idea that it's not an appropriate career path for men."
That was a hurdle LeBlanc did not need to overcome.
"My sister studied nursing in college when I was still in high school and trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. She had come home one of her breaks telling me about everything she was learning and told me, 'you should look into it.'"
For LeBlanc the timing was perfect. He already had an interest in helping people so nursing seemed like a natural fi t. He also knew that Curry would put him in the best position to succeed after graduation.
Part of that is because of Dr. Anderson's work. In addition to being an advocate for men in nursing, he is also one of the leading authorities on the NCLEX-the national exam responsible for nurse licensure across the country. In the past Anderson has written questions for the exam, and launched a special program to help firsttime test takers.
When LeBlanc looked at colleges, he was impressed by Curry's high NCLEX pass rate. In 2012, 95 percent of Curry College students passed the exam, higher than the national average of 91 percent.
"The preparation program we use is designed to point out where your weaknesses are. For example, you should do more alternate format questions, or you are weak in questions about the respiratory system," LeBlanc says, describing the preparation process. "I think it's what helps Curry students pass, because we do so much preparation; I think I ended up doing about 2,500 questions. Every test that you have as a Curry student is a similar format to the questions that you are going to be asked on the NCLEX. They are preparing you three years before you even take your test."
LeBlanc says Anderson's impact went beyond the NCLEX preparation-or anything he could have learned in the classroom.
"Don was a bit of an inspiration. [Through Don], it was cool to see what you can do with your career; you don't have to be in a hospital for the rest of your career. He
showed me, that apart from just working in a hospital, there are just so many different career options."
That diversity of career options within the nursing profession is something that Drs. Anderson and LaRocco view as critical to attracting more men into the field.
"We're trying to "degenderfy" nursing so to speak. If you can understand that nursing has so many different aspects to it: surgical nursing, community nursing, the
possibilities are unlimited," Anderson says.
Among those possibilities is the idea that nurses are more frequently taking on a more proactive role in the health of patients.
"Community [nursing] is the big trend. With the new Affordable Health Care Act, there are expected to be 20 million new people coming into the healthcare system, and nursing is going to play a huge part in that. By maximizing what we're doing with nurses and getting them to become the major change agents, the coordinators, the health avatars if you will, that will guide patients and families through the whole system from health to illness and back to health again."
This is a major goal of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing, and industry leaders such as Anderson and LaRocco- changing the perception of what a nurse can be.
This is especially important because Dr. LaRocco's research has shown her that many men decide to become nurses later in life-often times after they witness the positive impact a nurse may have had on a friend or loved one.
"Until they actually saw a nurse, they didn't really know what it was about. So what many groups like the AAMN are doing is holding career days, where they can bring students into a nursing lab, show them the equipment; teach them how to take blood pressures," LaRocco says.
"The other thing that has made a difference is Johnson and Johnson, and their campaign for nursing. I think a popular ad is one that shows a male nurse going in to
visit a pediatric patient. There are almost no words other than him talking to her and he's giving her chemotherapy for her cancer, and it's just the way he interacts with her and that's all it is. It's short, I bet it's not 15 seconds, but you say, 'wow,' and I think that has made more difference than anything, showing people what a nurse is."
The AAMN has launched its own effort to draw more men into the field. The "20 x 20: Choose Nursing" campaign. The goal is simple: to reach a target of 20 percent male enrollment in nursing programs by 2020.
A major component of this campaign is a poster series that aims to accomplish what Drs. Anderson and LaRocco have mentioned-change the public's idea of what a nurse should look and act like.
"Our first poster is Patrick Hickey," Anderson says. "Hickey is an operating room (OR) nurse in North Carolina, and he's climbed the seven summits in the world and written about that. So, what we did is we took a picture of him in an OR, and then we matched it up with a picture him on the top of Everest, and we call that particular poster adrenaline."
The message is simple: men who choose careers in nursing are as diverse as any other profession. The only prerequisite is a desire to care for and help people.
Dr. LaRocco says that patients are generally receptive to male nurses and the different style of care they may offer. LeBlanc agrees, saying he has never met a patient who feels uncomfortable or unnerved by having a male nurse. And, perhaps that is the best endorsement for male nurses- that patients don't view them based on their gender, they're viewed simply as what they are-nurses.
Faculty at the Curry College nursing program lead by example. For example, the language in classes is gender neutral- the nurse isn't a "he" or "she," it's just a nurse.
That's how Anderson and LeBlanc view their careers. Although both are minorities-in the classroom and in the field-they're only focused on the positive ways in which they can affect people.
"Every day there is some type of an email or there is some type of a student coming in that reaffirms why I want to be here." Anderson says. "We're changing lives, we're changing student's lives, we're changing patient's lives, because those people have a direct impact on the healthcare industry. So by working here I see myself, almost like an octopus in that I'm spreading my interest and excitement for the profession."
Though LeBlanc has only been a fulltime nurse for several months, he shares Anderson's passion.
"It's a career that's a lifelong commitment, a lot of nurses, when you talk to them later on in their career, they'll say it's the best thing they'll ever do. It can be tough at times, and it's definitely worth it in the end, just to know that you help people everyday, and that's what you're here to do. It's a very rewarding career."