Next month, the American Assembly for Men in Nursing holds its 40th annual conference to bring together men in the field, the only such conference for male nurses in the nation. From September 24 to 26, leaders in the field will gather in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to participate in workshops, discussions, and networking events for the men who make up nine percent of the nursing workforce.
The AAMN is a national organization with local chapters throughout the country. The AAMN’s aim is to encourage men to become nurses and to support the men who are working as nurses. Members work to keep issues about men’s health and issues relating to men in nursing in the forefront to help male nurses continue to excel in patient care.
This year’s conference theme focuses on interprofessional practice. Attendees will attend events that will address the role of interprofessional practice in everything from organizations to patient care and outcomes. The conference events will explore why and how inter professional practice benefits a team and patients and will also allow attendees to explore how to learn more about interprofessional practice through continuing education and in nursing education.
The weekendkicks off with a preconference event on reflective practice on September 23. The rest of the weekend brings a welcome reception on September 24 followed by days filled with exhibits, poster presentations, networking opportunities, and panels. Speakers will present on topics including Partnerships: Essential Foundation for Effective Practice; Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety (STEPPS); Recruiting and Retaining an Interprofessional Workforce for a Global Health Network; Shared Decisions are the Best Decisions: Nurses Leading Interprofessional Shared Governance; and Liberating Structures.
The educational and professional growth opportunities abound during this one-of-a-kind conference, but it’s the networking and camaraderie that bring participants back yearly. Being the minority gender in the nursing field brings up all kinds of issues for male nurses. This conference is the place where they can not only talk about things like discrimination or communication styles, but also learn from others’ experiences.
If you’re a male nurse, this is something worth looking into. If you can’t go, check into your local chapter of AAMN for some great resources and support.
Nursing might be a predominately female-staffed profession, but all nurses, male and female, still struggle with the same work-life conflicts. Whatever point they are in life – raising young children, coping with the needs of aging parents, just starting a career, or even facing retirement – there are always challenges.
Luckily, nursing generally allows the kind of flexibility and career growth that has long made nursing attractive to anyone trying to balance raising a family with work. Nurses who are men typically want the same benefits that attract women to a nursing career, and as dads, they face many of the same challenges.
What do dads want from work? And what can workplaces offer that will help them in their careers and at home?
Dads, it seems, want the flexibility to be home after the birth of a child or to participate fully in their children’s lives without fear of impacting their careers negatively. And although some American workplaces are stepping up to offer great maternity leave or flex-time benefits for women, they are lagging in offering the same benefits to men.
According to The New Dad: Take Your Leave, a recently released study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, working dads want workplaces that give them flexibility and career advancement and that recognize their increasingly active role in the day-to-day family activities. Ninety-five percent of dads surveyed reported flexibility as important to being able to balance their work and family demands.
New dads are finding a definite uptick in organizations offering both maternity and paternity leave (sometimes under an umbrella of parental leave), and men are trying to balance the demands of their careers with the demands of their families. Luckily for male nurses who are dads, many health care organizations recognize this important shift in an employee’s life and do offer some kind of paternity leave. But there are still many companies that don’t offer any leave at all or, if they do, it’s frequently unpaid.
While nearly all of the dads surveyed believe paid paternity leave is essential, they don’t always want to take it right after the baby is born. In fact, according to The New Dad study, 76 percent of dads surveyed would actually prefer to not take all of their leave right after the birth of a child. By taking the leave later (for example, once the mom’s maternity leave ended), dads can help make the mom’s transition back to work smoother and can often help extend the the time before parents need to look into care options.
With nearly 75 percent of fathers reporting they want to spend more time with their kids, flexibility is important to working families. The shifts in many nursing jobs allow that flexibility already, but as more men enter the profession paternity leave might become more of a hot-button topic.
Coming from a childhood that was full of children – including his seven brothers and sisters and plenty of foster children his parents cared for – it is no wonder Dr. Richard Cowling, PhD, APRN-BC, AHN-BC, FAAN, and vice president of academic affairs at Chamberlain College of Nursing, felt at home volunteering in a hospital as a teen.
He actually felt so at home, he even missed classes to spend more time at the hospital interacting with patients and giving them necessary care. But did he ever think he could turn his passion into a career? Not until a singular defining moment changed everything.
Sitting in the cafeteria with a group of students he was working with, Cowling recalls being asked about his plans for the future. “I said I would probably go into accounting or teaching,” recalls Cowling. “I really didn’t know.” When they asked him why he wasn’t going to go into nursing, his reply was straightforward.
“My response was, ‘What are you talking about?’” he says. As a teenage boy in the mid-1960s of Virginia, he had no idea men could be nurses, let alone make it a lifelong career. But he adored his work. “I fell into nursing without knowing what nursing was about,” he says.
But in the 1960s finding a male nurse role model was nearly impossible as few men followed the women-dominated career track. When it came time to tell his parents, Cowling approached with some apprehension. As a career military guy, Cowling’s dad encouraged him to join the military, but also saw his son’s career goals with a practical mind. “He saw a secure future for me,” says Cowling. As the family lived on military bases around the world (Cowling was born in the Philippines), the family saw both genders working as nurses. “They were used to men taking care of people, so it was not unfamiliar to them,” he says. But they never brought it up as a career with their son because they didn’t know he was interested in a nursing career, he says.
His family’s support was essential during Cowling’s first few years. As the second man to enroll in a nursing program in Virginia, he stood out from the crowd. “The first several years were tough,” he recalls. “Not only was being a nurse new to me as a man, but it was new to patients being cared for by a man.” He experienced both positive and negative reactions from patients and even doctors would sometimes have a tough time. Few, for example, allowed him into the labor and delivery rooms during his obstetric rotations.
“These were minor things in retrospect,” he says. “It taught me a lot about being respectful and about privacy. There were stereotypes of men and that was troublesome, but what was significant was being judged for what I knew and how I delivered care, not just my gender.”
Cowling went on to significant career achievements. In addition to his Chamberlain post, he also is editor of the Journal of Holistic Nursing. Past duties have included being a staff nurse, a private practice nurse, and a college professor. He has been the director of nursing in a nursing home and worked in a VA hospital as a mental health nurse. While at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, he launched the school’s first nursing Doctor of Philosophy program. And he has received many awards including being named the American Holistic Nurses Association’s 2008 Holistic Nurse of the Year.
What makes him most proud are the times when he could simultaneously help people, teach students, and do research. “Patients are a huge source of knowledge,” he says.
Through his trailblazing career as a male nurse, Cowling also assumed another role. He was the first single man in the state of Virginia to adopt a daughter, Tonya, who just celebrated her 39th birthday. As a single dad getting his master’s degree and then his PhD, Cowling formed a supportive circle of others in his circumstances. “We would help each other out,” he says.
The role of dad was natural for Cowling, he says, because he had the skills and competencies from living in his large family and a naturally nurturing personality. He knew how to change diapers, feed little ones, and keep them entertained. Tonya, he says changed his life.
With his groundbreaking roles, Cowling now looks back and is satisfied with how far things have come. Cowling says it is amazing how rapidly men have become more prominent in nursing, despite still being small in number in the field, and that gender is becoming less of a debate.
“It really isn’t about gender, but about how your commitment, competency, knowledge, and abilities overshadow all of that,” he says. Cowling believes skills should lead the discussion. “We need more nurses who are committed,” he says. “If we don’t consider men as sources of nursing, we miss out on that opportunity.”
And Cowling also wants anyone considering nursing to realize it is not always a hospital setting job. “There are so many opportunities in nursing and so many ways you can contribute,” he says. Nursing can be community based or involve teaching, research, administration, anesthesiology, or even midwifery. “Don’t ever let gender be the factor that keeps you from considering nursing,” he says.
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