Men at Work
The Next Time You Call for the Nurse on Duty, Don’t Be Surprised If a Man Answers
On one recent afternoon, Max Duran, RN, had his hands full in the KiDS of NYU Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Tisch Hospital. Duran, one of 135 male nurses at the Medical Center, helped a new mother perform what’s called “kangaroo care,” bringing her two-pound son to nestle, skin to skin, on her chest. Another mom came in with a cooler containing packets of breast milk she’d pumped. Duran chatted with her briefly, then stored the milk in a refrigerator so he could feed the baby by bottle later that evening. After checking the vital signs of a struggling newborn girl, Duran held her gently in the crook of his left arm, swaddled in a soft blanket. “You get to bond with the babies here,” says Duran, who has worked in the unit since 2002. “You care for them as if they were your own.”
For Duran, nurturing and protecting these most vulnerable of patients is part of a nursing career that began 13 years ago. At a time when women are flocking to once male-dominated professions like medicine and the law, men like Duran have discovered nursing. Nationally, male representation in the field has grown from 45,000 in 1980 to about 170,000 today, with men now comprising 6.6% of the nation’s nurses. NYU’s College of Nursing has seen a surge in male enrollments as well, with men representing 11% of its student body.
The recent economic downturn has attracted more men to the field, with its promise of job security, good pay and benefits, and multiple avenues for advancement, including such specialties as nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist. They like the hours, too: three or four 12-hour shifts per week provide time for family obligations and recreational pursuits.
At NYU Langone, men comprise 7.2% of the nursing staff, slightly higher than the national average. Kimberly Glassman, PhD, RN, senior vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer, wants to recruit even more men. When male and female nurses work together, she says, a healthy dynamic evolves. “It creates a more balanced, open environment,” says Dr. Glassman.
On some units, like the NICU, Duran is the only man. On others, such as the Mary Lea Johnson Richards Organ Transplantation Center on 14 West, 8 of the 47 nurses are men—more than twice the Medical Center’s average.
The perception that nursing care is women’s work and that nurses serve as physicians’ handmaidens can deter men from considering the field. But some men say that stereotype is belied by the independence the job grants them—evaluating patient progress, making critical judgments about care, working with families, and collaborating with a host of other professionals.
As more men find their way to NYU Langone’s Department of Nursing, they are also working to change attitudes. Some men in the profession, for example, bristle at being called a “male nurse,” insisting that they don’t need to have their title modified by their gender. “I don’t call my attorney a ‘female lawyer,’ ” notes Frank Stryzcek, RN, senior nurse clinician at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine.
The power of language can influence attitudes, too. Ronald Keller, RN, senior director of nursing (cardiac and surgery), is working to eliminate gender-specific pronouns in nursing materials and everyday speech, where nurses are often referred to as “she” or “her.” He has raised the issue at hospital leadership councils, in conversation, and at a conference held by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. “Nursing care isn’t about gender,” he says. “It’s about outcomes. You provide a service for patients to get better, and you’re part of the life of somebody in need.”