Nursing sees influx of male caregivers

ALBANY -- While the nursing field still remains overwhelmingly female, a recent study from the Census Bureau indicates that the representation of men has increased as the demand for more personnel in nursing has grown over the last several decades.

The study from the Census Bureau, released last month, shows that the proportion of male registered nurses has more than tripled since 1970, from 2.7 percent to 9.6 percent, and the proportion of male licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses has more than doubled from 3.9 percent to 8.1 percent.

The study, titled "Men in Nursing Occupations," presents data from the 2011 American Community Survey to analyze the percentage of men in each of the detailed nursing occupations: registered nurse, nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse.

Shaun Cook, a nurse at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, went into nursing as a second career and has been in the field for almost four years. He initially received a degree in church ministry, a field in which he worked for 13 years before working in furniture sales.

When the recession impacted the housing market, and by extension the furniture market, Cook entered the nursing program at Darton College. He now works as a bedside nurse, primarily on the weekends.

"I knew that nursing was a way to minister, but in a more physical way," Cook said of his career choice.

He has a family background in health care, being the grandson of an air medic and having a mother and an aunt who were both nurses.

Cook said the switch to nursing has worked for him in that there is greater job security and there is more flexibility regarding what days and hours he can work -- which allows him to spend time with his four children, one of whom is about to enter Darton.

Eugene Butler, a charge nurse at Phoebe, wanted to be a pharmacist initially, but eventually fell in love with nursing. He has worked as a pharmacy technician and as a licensed nurse practitioner and is currently on track to become a family nurse practitioner after he graduates from the program he is currently in later this year.

"Patient care and actually making a difference in patient's lives (was the motivation for going into the field)," Butler, a father of two, said. "People remember you when they see you in the community."

Butler and Cook say they have noticed a difference not only in the number of men going into the field, but also more acceptance from the patients being cared for by a man in a way that has traditionally been done by a woman.

"There has definitely been a shift," Cook said. "There probably still are stereotypes every now and then, but there has been a change in the culture.

"As more men do it, more men will do it."

It has been theorized that this shift is occurring, in part, as a result of male nurses becoming more visible on patient floors and interacting with patients more.

"(Patients are finding that) men can have a tender side," Butler said.

In 2011, there were 3.2 million nurses in the United States who were female and 330,000 who were male. At the same time, men's representation in the field was highest among nurse anesthetists at 41 percent, the report said.

Regardless of gender, nursing is not a job for the faint of heart.

"It is not an easy job," Cook said. "Nursing is not for everyone. You have to like people."

"We get people at their worst. We are assessing the patient and work as a liaison between them and the doctor. We advocate for them and their family, and are doing our best to get them to their optimal health."

Men typically outearn women in nursing fields, but not by as much as they do across all occupations, the report found. Women working as full-time nurses year-round earned 91 cents for every dollar male nurses earned.

At the same time, women earned 77 cents to the dollar men earned across all occupations, the report showed.

Since the demand for skilled nursing care is so high, nurses have low unemployment rates. Unemployment during the timeframe for the study was roughly .8 percent for nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists, and the rates for registered nurses and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses were at 1.8 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.

Counting only floor nurses working on the Phoebe Putney Health System's five campuses, there are a total of 1,145 registered nurses. Of those, 1,065 are female and 80 are male, officials at Phoebe say.