By John Koloen
Brandon Bredimus didn’t plan to become a nurse. The Midland native enrolled at Texas Tech University in Lubbock intending to become a physical therapist. A conversation with a fraternity brother who came to Tech as a pre-nursing major changed that.
“I was talking about how much I didn’t like the curriculum for my classes,” Bredimus recalled. “I asked him what made him consider nursing, and he said the money, security, and the broad medical nature of nursing. At first, I was somewhat hesitant to change majors, considering the male nurse stereotype. I heard him out and we kept talking about how great nursing was.”
While Bredimus doesn’t consider himself a pioneer, he may be on the leading edge of a trend as the still female-dominated profession makes more room for male counterparts. Nationally, some 6 percent of nurses are male. The numbers should soon increase, since the percentage of male students now in nursing schools is about 9 percent, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
At UTMB, the figures are even more dramatic. Among the students who enrolled as juniors in fall 2004, nearly 28.6 percent are male—and that’s almost three times the percentage of men who entered as juniors five years ago. (Undergraduate nursing students come to UTMB in their junior year, having completed at least two years of college elsewhere.)
For Howard Baade, who’s earning a master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner, becoming a nurse combined a hard-nosed business decision with a desire to help others. He received his B.S.N. from UTMB in 2003. “You have to have a caring drive to become a nurse,” he said. “It’s kind of a calling.”
Baade and Bredimus tick off some of the reasons they decided to become nurses: job security, an annual full-time salary starting at $45,800 at UTMB, and room for growth. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects a shortage of nearly eight hundred thousand registered nurses by 2020. The shortage of R.N.s this year is calculated to be about a hundred and fifty thousand.
“Nursing offers numerous personal rewards such as helping others and a sense of satisfaction in giving something back to humanity that just can’t be found in many traditional male professions.”
Rita Carty, immediate past secretary general of the Global Network of World Health Organization Collaborating Centers for Nursing and Midwifery Development, put the issue in perspective when she visited UTMB in February. It’s not that in the future there won’t be enough caregivers to go around, she notes. “If there aren’t enough baccalaureate-trained nurses to do a job, then someone else will be there to do it.”
“There are so many possibilities as to where you can work,” Bredimus said. “You can work in hospitals, you can work in clinics. If you get bored in a certain type of nursing, you can just go into another type of nursing, or you can switch fields. I really like that opportunity to move around within a profession.”
Caring has always been a cornerstone of nursing in particular and medicine in general. So have stereotypes, particularly stereotypes about male nurses, most commonly having to do with the beliefs that nursing is a “female” profession, or that many male nurses are gay.
“The stereotypes I deal with are that I am in a women’s profession,” Bredimus said. “It was historically a woman’s job. Other stereotypes that come up are how people think that anyone can become a nurse. It is a very demanding profession that is not something that you can just plug someone into. They have to have vast medical training and crucial clinical evaluation skills.”
“I believe the stereotypes are going away,” Assistant Professor Bruce Leonard said. “Advertisements and television programs depicting men as nurses working with a health care team have helped to dispel the stereotypes.”
Baade said some of his friends joked with him about the male nursing stereotype after he decided to become a nurse, but it was light-hearted and easily dismissed with humor. Bredimus says, “I go with the Greg Focker jokes.” (Ben Stiller played nurse Greg Focker in the movie Meet the Parents.) But turning serious, Bredimus adds, “I know I have people’s lives in my hands every day. What I do does matter.”
While some still consider nursing to be a female occupation, Bredimus and Baade see typically male characteristics such as greater upper body strength and endurance as conferring an advantage. “Men like to be in the heat of the battle,” Baade said. “Moving trauma patients from gurney to gurney, with a broken bone you need strength to help the physician realign that bone.” This is what draws him toward working in an emotionally charged environment such as an emergency room or ICU. “What I want to get out of nursing is the medical practice part,” Bredimus said. “I’m science-minded. I want to know about diseases, I want to know the pathology, I want the opportunity to work with patients longer than 15 minutes a pop.”
Leonard says that the School of Nursing is actively recruiting male students, particularly in the Houston area. “We’re attracting a very diverse group and overall they come in very well prepared for nursing school,” he said. “They vary in age. Some are right out of their sophomore year in college and others have worked in other fields before coming here.”
Greater awareness of the nursing profession and the many avenues for professional and personal development are certainly important, but Leonard says male and female students share similar attitudes about the importance of caring for people. “Nursing offers numerous personal rewards such as helping others and a sense of satisfaction in giving something back to humanity that just can’t be found in many traditional male professions,” he said.
Senior nursing student Vanessa Ray of Houston, anticipating graduation this summer, isn’t surprised at the increasing number of male nursing students. “The males are trying to come into the nursing program just like the females,” she observed. “I didn’t see any difference with men in class. They are treated the same as the women.”
Leonard agrees with the conclusions of Baade and Bredimus about opportunities in the nursing profession. “More males are enrolling because the career offers options that are not available in traditional male professions. Nurses today have many more opportunities than in the past, especially in selecting their area of interest to work,” he said.
Both Baade and Bredimus are quick to recommend nursing as a career choice for other men, but not because of impending shortages or other big picture issues. “In nursing, you can basically do anything you want to do,” Bredimus says.