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The Growing Narratives of Men in Nursing

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By: Fidelindo Lim, DNP, CCRN

Male nurses, at any given point in their interaction with patients, family, colleagues, and strangers, have most likely answered many mundane and sometimes sublime questions about “How did you get into nursing?”, What it is like being a male nurse?”, and “Are you going to study medicine?” among others. It is likely that most of us would give a humdrum reply to these prosaic questions. In the literature, however, the lived experiences of male nurses and their perspective on nursing care are rarely explored. We often hear about the economic incentives for choosing nursing, and the barriers preventing the pursuit of nursing among men, not their life stories.

In 2014, the New York City Men in Nursing, a chapter of the American Association of Men in Nursing (AAMN), started a monthly initiative to feature a member of the group on its website. The intent was to share the narratives of men in nursing. Reading the individual stories of some of today’s men in nursing, I can somehow distill the essence of caring, of nursing, and of our collective identity as nurses. Here are excerpts of the reflections of some of the accomplished nurses (pseudonyms used) joyously making an impact at the bedside and beyond:

“Coming from a male chauvinistic society and a family of doctors and engineers, to break away from my mother’s stereotyped perception; that nursing was for women was not easy.” 

Kenny 

“I’ve never felt compelled to use ‘calling’ to describe my vocation in nursing. Instead of a ‘calling’, I would liken it to riding a wave, where one will meet many different people who are also on different parts of the same wave, at different times.”

Michael

“A patient’s son was interested in becoming a nurse and asked me questions about my path, including why I wanted to be a nurse. All I could think about was that summer of 2011 when my grandpa brought upon me this thought of entering such an amazing field.”

Johan 

“When the procedure ended, I was the only person at the bedside and I was deeply concerned for the emotional state of the patient as she emerged from sedation. The patient was crying, shivering, and attempting to remove the endotracheal tube. I held her hand and quietly provided comfort by explaining the current situation.”

-Xiang

“Within 3 weeks of graduation, I passed the NCLEX, packed up my car and hit the road for New York City. After about two months of intense searching, I landed my dream job.” 

-Marc

“My instructor could only muster, ‘Mmm…no help there’ in response to my background in painting and literature. She was not being antagonistic. She simply could not see the value of the humanities in caring”.

-Amadou 

“Though physically he may have experienced pain, I felt that mentally, I was able to put him at ease and make his passing more comfortable.  At this point, I was assured that nursing was the path I should take.”

-Nathan

“I see doctors and nurses as I see a coin. It has two sides but they represent the same value.  Although there is equal value in the nature of the profession, I didn’t choose my profession at random as I would flip a coin. I chose it because I value its traditions, honor, and commitment bestowed upon an individual with the title ‘Registered Nurse’.”

-Pierre

“I can honestly say in hindsight that deep down I was not happy working as a lawyer, despite the fact that I enjoyed many successful moments in that career … there was always something missing for me … something nagging within me to explore beyond my chosen direction.”

-Juan Carlos

“My knees shook and buckled when the weight of my body felt the downward force of gravity. The nurse caught me before I could fall and safely sat me on the bed. She patiently waited and uttered words of encouragement with each attempt to steadily balance on my two feet. “Keep going. It’s ok, I’m here,” she said. Her hands were in mine as one foot shuffled past the other to the end of the hall and back. Moments like these can seem so insignificant to others, but impacted me to such a large degree in the motivation to pursue nursing.”

-Sung 

“One day towards the end of my shift; I admitted a patient in her early 20’s, with high fever, with her newborn baby in tow. The mother had a terminal cancer, metastasized to her bones, lungs, and liver. The nursing supervisor walked by and immediately stated, ‘She has to get her baby out of here or else I’m calling DYFS and they will come get the baby.’ That statement had an impact on me; what went through my head? I felt pain, I felt impotent. I wanted to cry …”

-William

These testimonials most likely echo the equally rich experiences of female and non-binary nurses. What makes them meaningful is in the writing and reading of these narratives. Within us is a vast repository of narratives of lives shared with our patients, loved ones, coworkers, and friends – waiting to be told. There is a resurgence of emphasis on the value of the patient’s story. As providers, we are expected to have the narrative competence to make sense of our patients’ stories, and to cultivate empathy. Let us also consider our own stories, not because we want to be in the starring role, but to gain a deeper character study of one of the most coveted and demanding role in healthcare – the nurse. So, gentle nurses, go out there and tell your story.

Fidelindo Lim is a clinical associate professor at New York University – Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

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