Men In Blue

More men are getting into nursing. Male nurses at Mary Greeley explain why the profession is so attractive, and the challenges they face. 

By Stephanie Marsau

"Never let them see you cry.”

That was the advice Neal Loes’ supervisor gave him during his orientation as a nurse at Mary Greeley Medical Center 38 years ago.

The supervisor offered this advice to all her nurses. On this occasion, however, it was the first time she was offering it to a male nurse—the only one at the time on Mary Greeley’s staff. Loes assured her that he had no intentions of crying.

He went on to become vice president for nursing at Mary Greeley and has seen the population of male nurses grow at the medical center. 

“Nursing is as personally and professionally satisfying a profession for men as it is for women,” said Loes. “The career has always come with some stigmas for guys, but that hasn’t deterred men from becoming nurses. It’s a real opportunity. Research has shown that if we simply double the number of men in nursing there would not be a nursing shortage across the country.”

Nurses typically are the largest employee group at any hospital. Of Mary Greeley’s 1,300-plus employees, more than 500 are nurses. Of those, only 31 are males.

According to a working paper from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, men account for about 13% of the nearly 3 million nurses nationwide. That may not sound like many, but in the 1960s that number hovered around 2%.

So why did some of the other male nurses at Mary Greeley choose to enter a profession that, even in 2018, still employs nearly six times as many women as men?

“I chose to be a nurse because when I was going to Iowa State my dad had a second heart attack that required quadruple bypass surgery,” said Kevin Krausman, RN, CMSRN. Krausman’s nursing role is unique in that he is part of Mary Greeley’s Nursing
Support Team, which means he doesn’t work on just one unit—but instead floats to other units that may be short-staffed.

Ian Halliday, RN, who works on Mary Greeley’s Medical Telemetry Unit, shares, “Helping people is my favorite thing about nursing. There’s something about seeing the reactions on a patient’s face, or on the faces of their family members, after you’ve helped them that is truly amazing.”

“I have been around nursing all my life because my mother is a nurse. I’ve been able to see firsthand the impact nurses can have on people,” said Jake Keller, RN, Home Health Services.

A Gender Shift

Why are more men choosing a career path that has traditionally been dominated by women? The answers are many, but one of them is the fact that traditional gender roles are going by the wayside.

According to Patricia D’Antonio, a nursing historian at the University of Pennsylvania, nursing has traditionally been considered a women’s field because women were perceived as natural caregivers. Nursing was such a gendered profession, males were not allowed to serve in the Army Nurse Corps in either of the world wars.

Attitudes are changing toward gender roles though, and as we become more and more progressive, more and more males are entering the nursing profession. In fact, the American Assembly for Men in Nursing is currently running a campaign in the hopes of seeing a 20% increase in male nurses in the United States by the year 2020.

Perks of Nursing

Job security may be another attraction to the nursing profession for men. Nurses are in high demand, and the profession offers a level of security higher than many other fields.

“I had worked in an iron foundry and in a few production line type jobs prior to becoming a nurse,” said Eric Adelmund, BSN, RN, clinical supervisor on Mary Greeley’s Medical Telemetry Unit. “I had been laid off three separate times in 10 years and the fear of not knowing if I was going to have a job to support my family scared me.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15 percent between now and 2026, much faster than the average for all other occupations. This is due to a number of reasons, including an increased emphasis on preventive care, growing rates of chronic conditions, and demand for healthcare services from the baby boomer population as they live longer and more active lives.

Luke Stalzer, BSN, RN, CEN, a nurse in Mary Greeley’s Emergency Department, had always been interested in healthcare and medicine. He started volunteering as an EMT when he turned 18.

“I felt like it was a natural transition to go from prehospital care to nursing care, and the job outlook was definitely in my favor,” said Stalzer. “Nursing also allows for advancement in many different areas whether that be education, leadership or advanced practice.”

The pay certainly doesn’t hurt either. The BLS reports the median salary for a registered nurse in Iowa was $57,930 in 2017. According to Penny Bellville, Mary Greeley’s Human Resources director, the median at Mary Greeley is higher than the average.
Greg Seward, RN, CMSRN, a nurse on the Medical Telemetry Unit, found himself needing to make a change in the early 80s.

“In 1983, the company I worked for declared bankruptcy and I went from making $11.69 an hour on Friday to making $6.50 an hour on Monday,” recalled Seward. “After a strike, our pay rate was raised to $8.50 an hour. That was when I realized I needed a degree in a field where I could go anywhere and get a decent job.”

Helping Others

While job security, salary and career advancement certainly all play important roles in the choosing of a profession—the male nurses at Mary Greeley all offered up another, more important, reason for choosing the career path they did.

“I became a nurse because I have always had a desire to help people,” said Keller. “Being a Home Health nurse and taking care of clients in their home is a completely different atmosphere than taking care of them in the hospital. I love being able to help them in their own environment.”

“I like knowing that every day I come to work I can make a patient’s day,” said Krausman. “As a nurse, I know that being in the hospital can be stressful for a patient and they can feel very vulnerable. Having a calm, caring nurse can help alleviate some of their stress.”

Adelmund echoes those sentiments. “When I first started college, I wanted to be a cop because I could help people. Now that’s the very thing I like most about nursing. I guess that need to make a difference in someone else’s life has always been a part of who I am.”

Helping others inside the hospital may be their job, but many of these guys are helping others outside of the hospital as well. Several volunteer in their own communities as coaches and a few have been volunteer EMTs.

The Stigma

The fact remains that while male nurses are becoming more and more common, there are still far more women in the profession than men. So when a male employee enters a patient’s hospital room, it is not always readily assumed they are a nurse.

“I have been called doctor more times than I can count, and also get asked frequently if I am a paramedic,” recalls Steven Gelder, MSN, RN, CEN, nurse on Mary Greeley’s Surgical Unit. “I have had some patients who do not want to change in front of me, but most patients don’t seem to have a problem with it. I have learned that if I seem uncomfortable, the patient will be as well.”

Tim Davis, BSN, RN, Cardiac Cath Lab, and Adelmund tend to use humor with patients who mistake them for a doctor.

“I seem to always be correcting people who think I’m the doctor,” mused Davis. “When I correct them I tell them that it was probably my gray hair that had them confused.”

Adds Adelmund, “There are definitely times that I’ve had patients think that I’m a doctor. I make sure to let them know that I am indeed not their doctor and that if I were, I would have a much nicer car.”

“It’s funny because in spite of all nurses at Mary Greeley wearing the same color scrubs (navy), I am frequently mistaken for an Emergency Department physician when entering a treatment room,’ said Stalzer.

Prognosis

The Mary Greeley male nurses interviewed for this story all agree that the outlook for males in nursing is strong.

“The stigma is there nearly every day,” explained Krausman. “But after I explain my role in the care they’re going to receive, patients are usually very understanding about having a male nurse on their care team.”

“People are coming to the realization that nursing is rapidly changing and more men are joining the profession now than ever before,” added Stalzer.

Male or female, a nurse plays a crucial role in providing patient-centered care. As one nurse put it, “Because of the knowledge I have, I could save a person’s life every day
I come to work.”