Medical community seeks Fred Nightingales

Nursing shortage spurs recruitment of men to the undervalued profession.

By Lynn Harris

Published December 22, 2005 12:13AM (EST)

Nurses: They're thought of as med-school rejects at worst, sexually fascinating at best. And for once, the men have it even worse than the women. Male nurses are girly, even crazy -- or not recognized at all. They've spent a long time trying to overcome the Klinger factor; even the most enlightened among us have been embarrassingly stumped by that old puzzle: Mom and kid in car accident. Mom killed. Son rushed to hospital. E.R. nurse says, "I can't operate on this child! He's my son!" How is this possible? The nurse is the kids father! Doh!

The medical community is trying to change all that. Not only because stereotypes are bad and wrong but also because they need all the nurses they can get. As the Chicago Tribune recently reported, "Overcoming these potent images is an enormous barrier for recruiters as they try to solve the nation's growing shortage of nurses. But after exhausting other hiring pools, recruiters from nursing schools, medical institutions and corporations are turning to the next promising group: men."

According to the article, only 6 percent of nurses are men. While 2,600 more males sought a B.A. in nursing in 2005 than in 2004, there's still a dearth of nurses across the board. "The federal government estimates that the industry is short more than 140,000 nurses this year. By 2020, the shortage is expected to swell to 800,000," according to the Tribune. Neither the nursing shortage nor the dearth of men is an entirely new concern, however. In 2002, a study found that 7.5 percent of male nurses left the field within four years of graduating from nursing school, versus 4.1 percent of female nurses.

Chicago-area nursing schools are using special "Men in Nursing" days and DVDs to get guys to picture themselves in the profession. Johnson & Johnson has featured men in its P.R. materials about nursing. Interestingly, the Tribune notes, "for the majority of men, nursing is a second, third or even fourth career." Surely poster nurses like the guys in the article should help dispel some misconceptions. Tim Freeman, for one, "worked as a firefighter and underwater welder before pursuing a long-time goal of becoming a nurse." An underwater welder! Paul Hernandez, also now in nursing school, is a former Army medic and cop. Any questions?

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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