Welcome mat is out for male nurses

By MARIA MALLORY WHITE
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Gentleman job seekers, take note: The supply is low and the demand is high for nurses.

While men considering careers or seeking to change jobs may not initially think of nursing, many men who work in the profession would likely advise them to think again.

"More men need to get into nursing. It's an excellent career," says Daryl Todd, a registered nurse who is the clinical manager for the General Medical Clinics of Grady Health System in Atlanta. "Men and women both, young and older, if they are looking for a second career they should really consider it."

Now is a prime time to do so. Government statistics predict the national shortage of nurses will only get worse over the next two decades. Projections by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services forecast a 40 percent shortfall by 2020 in the number of nurses needed to fill full-time positions in Georgia.

The shortage already is paying off for the nation's newest nurses, says Pat Mahan, a retired R.N. who now runs an industry job board, www.nurse-recruiter.com.
"New grads are making between low $40,000s and the mid-$40,000s in starting salaries per year," he estimates, noting salaries vary according to geographic location. "There are still (employers) in some places where they are offering new graduates $32,000 or $33,000 a year for a starting salary, but I feel sorry for them. They're going to continue to be hard-pressed to hire somebody."

The shortage is explained by several factors, Mahan says. First, "You have a record number of nurses retiring," he explains.

In addition, nursing's traditional practitioners, women, have many more career options than they did in an era when teaching, nursing, secretarial work and homemaking were the primary career options for female workers, Mahan says.

Lastly, "You have the rapidly aging population that's putting such a strain in health care right now," Mahan adds, "and that's not predicted to peak until 2015."

Though these and other factors have created a market hungry for nurses, the truth is there are still many stereotypes that may make nursing hard to swallow for some men.

"One stereotype is that it's strictly gay men," Mahan says. "That's a big stereotype that's out there, but that just has not been my experience. Sure, you will meet some, but that's true in any profession, whether it's nursing or not."

There is also the misperception the caregiving attributes a nurse needs are a female trait.

"When I first got into nursing, we were considered feminine because we went into nursing," says Jerry R. Lucas, an R.N. who is publisher of an Internet magazine at www.malenursemagazine.nursing-sites.com.
"Men can nurture and care just like females can," Todd says.

Gender and sexual preference are irrelevant. "It doesn't make a bit of difference. People should be judged on their work," Mahan says.

Some have stereotyped male nurses as intellectually deficient physician wannabes.

Ben Stiller's character in the movie "Meet the Parents" confronted this stereotype, Mahan points out. "The implication there was that he couldn't pass his medical boards, and he had to stay a nurse."

Lucas says he faced a similar perception: "You couldn't do engineering in college so you took up nursing" was the attitude, he says. In truth, "I started out as a combat medic in the Army. The nursing was the obvious next progression. I have never regretted going to (nursing) school."

For his part, Todd says, he had sufficient role models to counter many of the stereotypes.

As a teenager, his grandmother advised him to go into nursing to help pay for college, Todd says. "When I started, I was 17, and I needed a job," recalls the Asheville, N.C., native. So he took a Red Cross course to become an orderly.

"I always had a positive outlook about (nursing). My grandmother was a nurse. She worked for (Veterans Affairs). They had male nurses, or orderlies as they were called back then," he says.

Todd went on to become first a licensed practical nurse and then completed coursework at Morehouse and Morris Brown in preparation for the state nursing board exams. In 1987, he was licensed as a registered nurse, and he went on to earn the master's-level degree of clinical nurse specialist/advance practice nurse at Georgia State, as well as a doctorate in health care administration from Hamilton University in Iowa.

Those considering the field should focus on the selling points, not the stereotypes, Lucas says.

In tough economic times, job security is a big bonus of nursing.

"There are plenty of jobs and lots of security behind those jobs," Lucas says. "You're in a job where there is always going to be a need. I've been flown all over the United States to look at jobs."

Layoffs are relatively unheard of, Todd says.

"I've never seen people laying off nurses," he said. "There was a nursing shortage when I graduated. We had good years in the '90s, and there is now a nursing shortage."

And, contrary to images of bedpans and blood, there's a lot more to nursing, Mahan says.

"It's a very diverse field of practice, with literally dozens and dozens of areas to specialize in," he explains. "People need to have a fundamental desire to help people. Once you have that aptitude, it's a wonderful career because there are so many different areas to get into. There are dozens of areas just in the hospital. Then there's research, education -- even doing what I'm doing, information technology."

Todd agrees: "There are so many facets of nursing," he says. "There is psychiatry, where you don't see any blood at all. You can go work in a doctor's office where there isn't any blood. There are nurses who work as case managers for insurance companies. They never go to a hospital, but they have a knowledge base. It's not always blood and guts."

Even with all the benefits, nursing can be a tough job.

"There are some days, you work so hard, you're like, 'I don't care how much money they pay me,' " Todd admits. "I would not paint a picture that it's a walk down Central Park and everything's rosy and fine."

Nurses have their share of burnout, Mahan says. "There's a lot of frustration because they're not in control of the health care delivery system, but they're central to it," he explains.

But the work is rewarding, Mahan says, because "every day you go in, and you make a difference in people's lives."


Maria Mallory White writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.



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