The Growing Narratives of Men in Nursing

Fidelindo Lim, DNP, CCRN
Clinical Assistant Professor
New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing

Any male nurse, at any given point in their interaction with patients, family, colleagues, and strangers, has most likely answered many mundane and sometimes sublime questions about “How did you get into nursing?”, What is it like being a male nurse”, “Are you going to study medicine?” among others. It is likely that most of us would give a humdrum reply to these prosaic questions. In the literature, the lived experiences of male nurses and their perspective on nursing care are rarely explored. We often hear about the economic trajectories and the barriers of not pursuing nursing among young men, not their life stories.
In 2014, the New York City Men in Nursing, a chapter of the AAMN, started an initiative to feature monthly a member of the group on its website. The intent is to share the narratives of men in nursing. Browsing and reflecting the individual stories of some of today’s men in nursing, we can somehow distill the essence of caring, of nursing, and our collective identity as nurses.
Here are a few excerpts.
“Coming from a male chauvinistic society and a family of doctors and engineers, to break away my mother’s stereotyped perception; that nursing was for women was not easy.” 
“At times, I’ll tell people it was when I was an accident-prone child and teenager that had numerous surgeries, stitches and near concussions and spent more than a few days in hospitals. Other times, it ‘began’ when I was a Peace Corps volunteer …”
“I didn’t know what I wanted out of nursing. I’ve never felt compelled to use ‘calling’ to describe my vocation in nursing. Instead, I would liken it to riding a wave, where one will meet many different people who are also on different parts of the same wave, at different times.”
“Recently a patient’s son was interested in becoming a nurse, and he asked me questions about my path, including why I wanted to be a nurse. All I could think about was that summer of 2011 when my grandpa brought upon me this thought of entering such an amazing field.”
“When the procedure ended, I was again the only person at the bedside and I was deeply concerned for the emotional state of the patient, as she emerged from sedation. The patient was crying, shivering, and attempting to remove the endotracheal tube. I held her hand and quietly provided comfort by explaining the current situation.”
“My wheels were spinning, and I saw a confluence of all my skills - psychology, acting, managing, training, and yes, even jumping out of airplanes, in this career path. Once again, I took a dive and decided to become a nurse.”
“My goal is to ultimately become a Doctorally-prepared provider for the underserved population. I want to fill the void and shortage of providers in the specialty of mental health.”
“I wanted to become a translator for a Japanese automotive company. I spent several years studying Japanese and living in Japan, working towards this goal … Within 3 weeks of graduation, I passed the NCLEX, packed up my car and hit the road for New York City. After about two months of intense searching, I landed my dream job.” 
“My instructor could only muster, “Mmmm… no help there” in response to my background in painting and literature. She was not being antagonistic. She simply could not see the value of the humanities in caring”.
“One of the biggest challenges to nursing is the recent changes in healthcare specifically an emphasis on metrics including patient satisfaction (not patient care).”
“Though physically he may have experienced pain, I felt that mentally, I was able to put him at ease and make his passing more comfortable.  At this point, I was assured that nursing was the path I should take.”
“… and with utmost honesty, I think a big part of that zeal and optimism has come from my involvement with the Men in Nursing organization I am currently a part of.”
“I come from a Pakistani family and being the eldest son, I was expected to pursue a career, which would make my parents proud, and nursing was certainly not one of them.”
“I had no real nurse role models; just a hunch in the wake of my grandmother’s passing that the nursing model of care would be more aligned with my own values.”
“My older sister with whom I was living at the time is a registered nurse (currently NP). She had always asked me to think about a nursing career but the rebellious little brother that I was, wanted nothing to do with it.”
“I see doctors and nurses as I see a coin. It has two sides but they represent the same value.  Although there is equal value in the nature of the professions, I didn’t choose nursing at random as I would flip a coin. I chose it because I value its traditions, honor, and commitment bestowed upon an individual with the title ‘Registered Nurse’.”
“One of the earliest and most persistent challenges I faced is with the collective ignorance of the general public as to what a nurse actually does.  With a group of friends consisting primarily of engineers and bankers, I was constantly asked why I want to ‘clean poop for the rest of my life?’”.  
“… ultimately practicing law in New York City for almost 10 years thereafter. I can honestly say in hindsight that deep down I was not happy working as a lawyer, despite the fact that I enjoyed many successful moments in that career … there was always something missing for me … something nagging within me to explore beyond my chosen direction.”
“My great-grandmother, as well as my grandmother, both served as nurses in the armed forces. My mother followed in their footsteps and has worked as a nurse for over 30 years. With a background entrenched in nursing that has spanned several generations, it may surprise people to hear that as a child growing up, I never considered becoming a nurse for my career.”
“My knees shook and buckled when the weight of my body felt the downward force of gravity. The nurse caught me before I could fall and safely sat me on the bed. She patiently waited and uttered words of encouragement with each attempt to steadily balance on my two feet. ‘Keep going. It’s ok, I’m here,’ she said. Her hands were in mine as one foot shuffled past the other to the end of the hall and back. Moments like these can seem so insignificant to others, but impacted me to such a large degree in the motivation to pursue nursing.”
“One day towards the end of my shift; I admitted a patient in her early 20’s, with high fever, with her newborn baby in tow. The mother had a terminal cancer, metastasized to her bones, lungs, and liver. The nursing supervisor walked by and immediately stated, ‘She has to get her baby out of here or else I’m calling DYFS and they will come get the baby.’ That statement had an impact on me; what went through my head? I felt pain, I felt impotent. I wanted to cry …”
“It is powerfully rewarding to have been the clinician who helped save someone’s life in an acute situation. Though I may grumble at times, I can honestly say I love my job.”
“We listen, we empathize, we observe, we discover, we analyze, we conclude, we discuss, we coordinate, we implement, we monitor, and last but not least, we bring smiles to our patients.”
These testimonials echo the equally rich experiences of female nurses, or of any nurse. What makes them meaningful is in the writing and reading of these narratives. There is a resurgence of emphasis on the value of the patient’s story. Isn’t it time we also consider the stories of the nurses? After all, every nurse is a story and within us is a vast repository of narratives of lives shared, from and with our patients; love ones, co-workers and friends - waiting to be told. As one of the narrators (Nial) aptly wrote “a quick read through the ‘member spotlight’ section of the NYC Men in Nursing website will prove that, while we are all dedicated to quality patient care, we are not just nurses. All have unique life stories and talents.”
Personally, for me, these stories are like cairns, left by those who walked this path before us, to guide those who will walk after them, and to reassure those who might be a little lost that they are on the right track.

To learn more and read the full narratives of men in nursing, click

Members of the New York City Men in Nursing