Hospital Leads in Hiring Male Nurses
Neil Williams II, a registered nurse for nearly a decade, still routinely gets mistaken for a doctor when he walks into a patient's room wearing a white lab coat over his blue scrubs.
It's a small reminder that old stereotypes die hard -- despite rising numbers of men choosing careers as registered nurses, and despite years of predictions that men will be key in easing a nursing shortage.
"That's still how society sees it," said Williams, 35, an assistant nurse manager in orthopedic surgery at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville. "A doctor is a male. A nurse is a female."
At Williams' employer, however, the nursing staff includes plenty of exceptions to that stereotype.
Pitt County Memorial Hospital, a private nonprofit teaching hospital affiliated with East Carolina University's medical training programs, boasts one of the best records nationally at hiring men as nurses.
About 10.5 percent of the hospital's registered nurses are male -- a stellar showing considering that men make up only about 5.7 percent of registered nurses nationally.
Attracting more men to nursing is seen as one way to extend the supply of registered nurses, who perform much of the hands-on patient care in hospitals. As need for health care rises, driven by a growing and aging population, demand for nurses is expected to far outstrip the available supply.
North Carolina has made progress in bringing more men into the profession. About 7 percent of registered nurses in the state were men in 2005, up from 3.9 percent in 1992.
But the profession must make greater inroads if men are going to be a meaningful help in addressing the nursing shortage, said Billy Bevill, a registered nurse since 1977 who is vice president of recruiting and retention for the N.C. Center for Nursing.
"The biggest challenge is still getting men to see nursing as a masculine role," said Bevill, whose main task is to attract more qualified people of both sexes into nursing.
There's more than a little historical irony in nursing's stubborn image as "women's work."
Early nurses included holy men who organized to care for victims of bubonic plague during the Middle Ages. Men continued to provide nursing care up until the mid-1800s, when nursing legend Florence Nightingale marshaled a corps of female nurses to care for injured British soldiers during the Crimean War. Military doctors initially resisted the intrusion of females, but Nightingale's efforts eventually helped establish nursing as a respectable career for women. By the next century, the profession was almost entirely female.
Men are represented at every level of nursing at Pitt County Memorial. They are floor nurses, nurse managers and administrators. Even the hospital's chief nursing officer -- one of the hospital's senior administrators -- is a man.
The hospital's thorough integration of men into its nursing ranks recently won the hospital accolades as the nation's best workplace for male RNs, an award bestowed by the American Assembly of Men in Nursing.
What's surprising is that Pitt County Memorial has become a haven for men in nursing without any extraordinary efforts on its part.
Like any hospital angling for talent in a competitive market, Pitt does all it can to appeal to competent nurses of any sex or race.
"We haven't really said we're going to go out and target men," said Tom Czaplijski, the hospital's chief nursing officer. He trained as an RN nearly 30 years ago. "To some extent, we've been fortunate."
Location, location ...
One factor that may contribute to the hospital's success at attracting men is its proximity to ECU's Brody School of Nursing. The nursing school, which the American Assembly of Men in Nursing recognized in 2004 as the nation's most male-friendly school of nursing, does better than most at attracting male students. About 17 percent of its students are men, compared to an average of about 11 percent at other nursing schools in the state.
Since nurses often take jobs in the same area where they train, that's a boon to Pitt County Memorial, Czaplijski said.
Another factor in the hospital's success at recruiting men may be its location in Eastern North Carolina.
The eastern part of the state has been especially affected by the loss of jobs in tobacco and manufacturing. In the Triangle and other parts of the state, displaced workers -- as well as young people who traditionally would have gone into "old economy" jobs -- have found new opportunities. Jobs abound in construction or in fields such as pharmaceuticals and laboratory science.
In Eastern North Carolina, where those opportunities are less available, Pitt County Memorial Hospital has been well positioned to attract those workers, said Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State University.
The hospital is the largest employer in Pitt County, employing more people than even ECU. Its parent company, University Health Systems, is the largest employer in Eastern North Carolina.
"If you're a young male considering your career options, it's just a very obvious match," Walden said.
Nursing may be particularly attractive to men because it promises a stable, relatively well-paying job that won't disappear at the whim of the economy. Nurses at Pitt Memorial typically start at an hourly wage of $19. That works out to about $39,500 a year -- about $7,000 more a year than the average wage in Greenville. Experienced nurses earn annual salaries of $50,000 and up, more if they work in high-demand fields or complete advanced training.
Trained in two years
Another plus: Training for an RN can be completed in two years at community college or as little as 14 months through an accelerated bachelor's degree program designed for students who already have a four-year college degree in another field.
It didn't take long for Daniel Drake, who decided to train as an RN shortly after graduating from high school in 1990, to settle on a career in nursing.
What hooked the Pitt County native was Pitt County Memorial's emergency helicopter service, EastCare. After speaking to flight crews at a few community events, Drake, now 34, realized that most of them were nurses and many of them were men. That could be me, he thought.
"I think men are attracted to professions that are stable, well-paying, and considered important," said Drake, who became an RN in 1992 and has worked at Pitt County ever since.
He started out working trauma and intensive care but is now a clinical nurse specialist in the hospital's weight-loss surgery unit, where he is also site coordinator. "The general public probably doesn't understand what nurses do," Drake said. "That's why people still tend to think of it as a feminine profession."
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Liz Di Bernardo