ALBANY -- Fifty years ago, nursing was one of those fields that was left almost entirely to the women. There were few men in the profession.
Developments in recent years, however, have caused that to change -- and Southwest Georgia is no exception.
Ken Stack became a registered nurse in July after an event involving a family member encouraged him to pursue a career change.
"My father had to have a coronary shunt," he recalled. "The impact of the nurses and how they comforted us touched me."
Stack is now working in Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's emergency center. After having gotten his feet wet, he said he feels the profession has aspects to it that appeal to both sexes.
"Nursing is an art and a science," he explained. "The science aspect may attract men. You can't help but be a nurturer when you are in a room with a patient, but the science brought me into it."
Despite men comprising only 10 percent of the nursing workforce, Stack said he hasn't come up against much resistance from those uneasy with the idea of a male nurse being involved with patient care.
"Patients know it's a profession," he said. "Men add a level of professionalism to the job. Everyone I've come in contact with has been positive.
"It (health care) is truly a team atmosphere."
The best part of the job is interaction with patients, Stack said.
"Nurses have more contact with the patient, much more than any other part of the team," he said. "Patients forget to ask certain questions to the doctor, but they are more open with a nurse."
Todd Braswell, director of Phoebe's emergency center, emphasized that while every member of the health care team is critical, nurses have a special role in the process.
"Everybody on the team is important, but the nurse is the primary direct patient caregiver," he said.
Like Stack, Braswell agrees that the idea of nursing being a woman's job exclusively is outdated.
"That is an old-fashioned stereotype," he said. "The job is challenging and rewarding. I think anyone would be attracted to that."
After all, there are a number of opportunities in nursing to work with.
"The field is so diverse," Braswell. "There are so many areas in nursing a person can specialize in."
Mike Seago, a nurse at Palmyra Medical Center, has been in the profession for two years. While having his sights set on the physician assistant program at Darton College, he was talked into pursuing nursing.
He didn't look back after that.
"I realized that was where I needed to be all along," he said.
Seago said he has not come up against much resistance to the idea of a male nurse, although he still bumps into people who are new to the idea.
"I've had patients say to me, 'Hey, Doc,' and I'd say, 'No I'm a nurse.' Then, they'd say, 'I've never had a male nurse before.'
"But, I've never encountered anyone against males being nurses."
In fact, he would like to see more men take on the challenge.
"Nursing is not just a woman's job," Seago said.
Lanny Sears, who currently works in Palmyra's emergency center, has been a nurse for 20 years. He went into the field after several years of working with Dougherty County Emergency Medical Services, and with fire services before that.
Sears already had a friend in the nursing field when he was considering a career change.
"We were having a lot of guys get injured on the job (with Dougherty EMS)," he recalled.
In 1986, he went into nursing school. He has spent the majority of his career where he is now.
"I've always been an adrenaline junkie," Sears quipped.
When he first started out, Sears was one of two male nurses working in the emergency room. While reservations have been conveyed by some, there has not been much resistance from the patients he has worked with.
Still, there can be situations where it is more appropriate for a patient to
have a nurse of a certain gender.
"I think it's all about how nurses handle it and are aware of what the patient wants," Sears explained.
While women still make up for the majority of those in the nursing profession, gender diversity may vary depending on which region you are working in, Sears said.
"It is somewhat different in California (and other places)," he said.
Like his peers, Sears said there are a number of possibilities within the nursing field, ranging from hospitals and physician offices to forensic nursing and careers with health insurance companies -- enough to where the profession should appeal to both men and women.
"There are so many different areas you can enter," he said. "There is no such thing as general nursing. I think for males and females, it gives opportunities to do different things.
"It's very rewarding."
From Sears' perspective, as others in the profession have said, it would be hard for the health care system to function without nurses.
"Nurses are the primary caregivers," he said. "Doctors see the patient for five minutes; the nurses are the ones that deal with the families.
You can't do without one and have the other.
"I think it's a good occupation."