Male Call: More men in NMC’s nursing program and in the workforce

Father and son Jerry and Ted Stevenson at Munson. Jerry works in oncology, while Ted works in the Intensive Care Unit. Photo courtesy of Munson Medical Center.

The nursing program at Northwestern Michigan College is turning out male nurses at a greater rate than the national average. The associate’s degree program had 72 graduates in 2016, 19 percent of whom were male. The college’s Practical Nurse program turned out 45 graduates, 16 percent of whom were male.

That compares favorably with national statistics, where only 9.1 percent of registered nurses are men. Still, that nine percent mark is itself a sea change – after all, in 1970, only 2.7 percent of RNs were men.

For some men, nursing beckons as a second career. That’s the case for Mac Beeker, who became a nurse following a successful career in broadcasting. When his parents’ health began to decline, he took a class in NMC’s nursing program to learn how to better take care of them.

“Then I just kept going,” Beeker said.

Today, he’s an instructor at NMC, the college’s first male nursing instructor.

He said the profession’s appeal to older men includes financial reasons as well as the students’ own changing goals and perceptions. “Some of it is economic. It’s well-paid and well-respected. And sometimes it takes a little maturity,” said Beeker. “I think men aren’t necessarily raised to be caregivers.”

Not that all male nurses are older. Adam Sevensma looked to be on his way to a culinary career while in high school, but his work as an EMT piqued his interest in medicine.

“I wanted to build on the skills from my EMT experience with the fire department,” he said. “That made me want more.”

So he moved on to study nursing while still in his 20s.

“I was lucky enough to get in (to the NMC program),” he continued. “There’s a great demand. I felt the program was structured very well for an associate’s degree.”

Sevensma worked as a firefighter and EMT during his schooling and was offered a position at Munson upon graduation and successful completion of his national nurse’s exam. He worked in the cardiac critical care unit at Munson for two years before moving to the Boston area, where he worked at South Shore Hospital and then moved on to Charlton Memorial Hospital in Massachusetts. He remains grateful for the schooling and the experience in Traverse City.

“The support Munson Healthcare gave the program was huge,” he said.

Then there’s Jerry and Ted Stevenson. Jerry had spent more than two decades in retail and saw nursing as an enticing option. His son, Ted, had moved from Traverse City to Lansing and was working in a nursing home while attending Michigan State. They became NMC’s first father-and-son nursing students to study and graduate together.

“My wife had been an RN for 30 years. She encouraged it,” said Jerry Stevenson. “It’s a field that’s very rewarding. I was looking for something more meaningful.”

Today Jerry works in oncology, while Ted works in the intensive care unit. Jerry said patients are typically accepting of a male nurse.

“The patients are not surprised. There are so many different aspects. Because of the diversity, a lot of different people can do the job.”

Not only are more men entering the field, the field itself is changing. Today nurses are giving TED talks, publishing scientific research, developing mobile medical applications, and actively addressing health care policy, according to the Huffington Post.

A recent article in The Guardian quoted longtime nurse Edna Astbury-Ward, a senior lecturer at the University of Chester, who said the need for nurses today to be highly- trained, well-educated, critical thinkers is a requirement enabling them to make complex clinical decisions that 50 years ago would almost certainly have been made by doctors.

Not only has the role changed, so have the perceptions. “It was a hierarchical approach, that nurses worked for doctors,” said Beeker. “We work for the patients. What we do is very different than what physicians do. Doctors are more like the offensive coordinator. We’re the quarterback.”

Sevensma agreed.

“Now it’s seen as a physician’s lifeline. Physicians are dependent on the nurse’s assessment,” he said.

While people have become more conditioned to seeing men as nurses, Beeker believes there are still conceptions that nursing is a woman’s job. As proof, he pointed to references in pop culture. “‘Meet the Parents’ did a lot of damage,” he asserted, referring to the comedy film in which Ben Stiller’s nurse character is derided by his fiancée’s father for his career choice.

However, Beeker doesn’t believe the damage is permanent. “In hospitals, by and large, patients don’t have that misconception,” he said. Nor is that the case with other workers, male or female. “I’ve never seen that with other professional staff.”

How do female nurses feel about their male counterparts? Jan Price, a shift coordinator in the ICU at Munson, couldn’t be happier, for a number of reasons.

“They can be just as empathetic as their female counterparts,” she said, telling about a male nurse who comforted a patient who’d been given a bleak prognosis regarding his cancer. “He went into the room and started to cry with him,” she said.

She also believes that male nurses have helped reduce the sexism that females had to deal with, and have helped push wages upward for all nurses. She said they are also more assertive. That’s a point with which Sevensma concurred. “Classically, a nurse was a female who was non-assertive. Nurses today are very educated and assertive,” he said.

Stevenson said ultimately that gender doesn’t really matter. The nurse’s goal is always the same. “We’re trying to help patients and be advocates for patients,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.”