In the past, most nurse roles on television were played by women. Just as the number of men in the nursing profession in real life is increasing, we’re likewise starting to see more men in nursing roles on television.
We chose some of our favorites—because we either loved or could barely tolerate them or they made an impact during their time on the small screen. Here they are, in no order of preference.
Fictional Character: Thor Lundgren Played by: Stephen Wallem Show: Nurse Jackie
Everyone loved Thor—he was smart, strong, and funny as heck. And he tried to help Jackie. If he wasn’t shooting the breeze with Jackie in the chapel, he was dealing with Zoey. But in a moment’s notice, he was right there, saving patients. We’d want him as our nurse.
Fictional Character: Peter Petrelli Played by: Milo Ventimiglia Show: Heroes
With all the challenges they face, nurses in real life may often feel like they need superpowers. In the TV show Heroes, the nurse actually had them. Peter Petrelli, played by Milo Ventimiglia (who’s now starring on the hit show This Is Us), was working as a hospice nurse when he realized that he was evolved and could absorb the powers of other humans who were evolved. Wouldn’t that be great to do when working a double shift?
Fictional Character: William Dell Parker Played by: Chris Lowell Show: Private Practice, a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff
While he worked as a receptionist, Dell Parker was a qualified nurse and began training to work as a midwife. Unfortunately, his character was killed off in a car crash. But the time he had on the show, he made quite an impression
Fictional Character: Rory Williams Played by: Arthur Darvill Show: Dr. Who
As a nurse in a coma ward, Rory Williams is a close companion to the 11th Dr. Who, played by Matt Smith. Hey, he gets to help people and go in the TARDIS? What’s not to love?
Fictional Character: Clark Beavers Played by: Jonathan Slavin Show: Dr. Ken
Clark Beavers is hilarious. He calls Dr. Ken (played by Ken Jeong) his “work husband,” walks with a group at the mall, and really loves shrimp. But the reason we love him is because he makes us laugh.
Fictional Character: Jesus Velasquez Played by: Kevin Alejandro Show: True Blood
When he comes to work as a nurse for Lafayette’s mom, Jesus Velasquez ends up becoming the fabulous one’s boyfriend. He then introduces Lafayette to witchcraft and being a medium. While they worked well together, Jesus gets killed off, although he did return in a future episode as a ghost.
Fictional Character: Paul Flowers Played by: Ricky Schroder Show: Scrubs
Even though he only graced us with his presence for a few episodes, nurse Paul Flowers made a big impression. He put up with Dr. Kelso’s nasty remarks, “That’s a woman’s job, son.” But he also dated Dr. Elliott Reid, played by Sarah Chalke. While she gets embarrassed by being with a male nurse who has been known to wear pink scrubs, Paul tries to show her the error of her ways. Unfortunately, she dumps him, and Paul was no more. But he showed how male nurses could be comfortable with their masculinity while they cared for patients.
In part one of this two-part series, we illustrated the types of prejudice and stereotypes that male nurses can often face. What happens, though, when male nurses experience it? What can or should they do?
What to Say
If confronted by someone who believes that men don’t belong in nursing, you should be professional and take the opportunity to educate them. “I would tell them to check the data,” says Donnell Carter, MBA, MS, CRNA, clinical staff nurse anesthetist at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Many men are turning to nursing because it is a secure and rewarding profession with plenty of opportunities for personal growth. Nurse anesthetists, in particular, practice with a high degree of autonomy and professional respect. They carry a heavy load of responsibility and are compensated accordingly.”
Tell them to walk the walk. “I would ask them to join me for 12 hours and see if they could do what I do. Walk a mile in my clogs,” says Jeremy Scott, MSN, RN, CCRN, a resource pool nurse at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Look into history. Kody Colombraro, LPN, EMT-B, a hospice care consultant at Regency Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, suggests that you give them a history lesson. “If it hadn’t been for the crusades, males would still be the dominate sex in nursing. The first nurses were the Knights of Hospitaller, also known as the Order of St. John. They were believed to have been the medical caregivers to the Knights of Templar. It wasn’t until Templar numbers decreased that they were militarized and sent to battle.” When that happened, women began filling the need for nurses.
Ask Why? Les Rodriguez, MSN, MPH, RN, ACNS-BC, APRN, clinical nurse specialist/clinical education specialist pain management for Methodist Richardson Medical Center in Richardson, Texas asks them why they think that way. “Men are just as capable of being nursing as women are in being physicians. Men are just as capable at being nurturing, compassionate, empathetic, and caring as women are,” he says. “We have females in the battlefield, flying planes, and running corporations. Why can’t and shouldn’t a man be a nurse?”
Enlighten Them. “When you consider the aging and declining health in America, I firmly believe that we will need every man and woman who aspires to to be a registered nurse,” says Dave Hanson, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, NEA-BC, regional director of nursing practice, education, and professional development at Providence Health & Services Southern California in Burbank, California. “According to the 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, men provide a unique perspective and set of skills that are important to the profession and society. The IOM report also noted that the nursing profession needs more diversity—in gender as well as ethnicity.”
What Action to Take
If you’re a male nurse and dealing with stereotypes, prejudice, and/or discrimination, there are actions you can take. “Discrimination is a big problem. If any nurse is being discriminated against, he or she should contact human resources, their union representative, and, if needed, a lawyer,” advises Basler.
“The first stop should be their nurse manager—unless that is an issue. Then, human resources—unless that is an issue, with the next stop being an attorney on the way to a new job,” says Scott. “I personally would not deal with nonsense.”
Regarding stereotypes, they still exist, and, for some people, always will. But male nurses can do their part to help eliminate them. “One way to dispel stereotypes is to understand that it’s typical to have variations within any group, including the nursing profession. Recognizing and respecting the diversity that exists within the nursing workforce is what will strengthen and grow our profession,” explains Hanson. “It’s essential for the larger community of registered nurses to stand together to advocate for ongoing education, research, policy, and dissemination of information about men’s health issues and men in nursing.”
And be all that you can be. “Do an outstanding job and go above and beyond for their patients and team members,” says Carter. “I would also recommend seeking leadership, teaching or mentoring experiences to help change public perceptions. It’s important for men to actively seek to change the face of nursing by highlighting their diversity.”
Carter continues: “My career has rewarded me with many opportunities. The face of nursing has truly changed over the last two decades. I expect that more men will decide to pursue a career in nursing in the future.”
Concentrate on the job at hand. “Just keep your nose to the grindstone and surpass all negativity,” says Robert Whigham, RN, a staff nurse at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. “Watch your life flourish.”
“You decided to join a profession that has been dominated by women for generations,” says Jonathan S. Basler, RN, a clinical nurse at West Front Primary Care in Traverse City, Michigan. “Choose your mentors wisely and be the best nurse you can be. Let your knowledge, skills, and compassion define you as a nurse—and not your gender.”
Many people experience some kind of discrimination, stereotyping, or even prejudice against them at some point in their lives because of their race, sex, sexual orientation—and even sometimes because of their jobs.
While more and more men are entering the nursing field, it’s still a profession that is primarily comprised of women. So we asked a number of male nurses what they’ve experienced, how they’ve dealt with it, and their advice for other nurses who may experience something similar.
In this article, we begin with what kinds of stereotypes they’ve experienced.
Are You the Doctor?
Nearly every male nurse we interviewed said that he had, at least at one time, been mistaken for a doctor. They all, though, handle it in their own ways.
“I have walked into an exam room where a patient is waiting, and before I had a chance to introduce myself, they said, ‘I thought I was seeing Dr. Weber.’ I just smile and say, ‘You are seeing Dr. Weber. You just get to see me first. I’m Jonathan. I’m a nurse, and I’m going to check your INR before he comes in,’” explains Jonathan S. Basler, RN, a clinical nurse at West Front Primary Care in Traverse City, Michigan. “Then they usually say, ‘You’re not as pretty as his old nurse.’ When I worked in nursing homes, it was common for me to hear, ‘Thanks, Doc!’ as I was leaving a room—and it didn’t matter how many times I introduced myself as their nurse.”
Keynan Hobbs, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC, a clinical nurse on the PTSD Clinical Team at VA San Diego Healthcare in California, says that he is mistaken for a doctor all the time and was even back in nursing school. “It happened even more when I moved into an advanced-practice nursing role and wore a white lab coat every day,” he says. Because he works in psychotherapy now, he is often called “doctor.” His response is, “I’m not a doctor; I’m an advanced-practice nurse, and you can call me Keynan or Mr. Hobbs.” Although he doesn’t find this now in psychotherapy, he says that when working in a hospital, “People would look right past me when I told them I was a nurse because some see nurses as less powerful in that setting.”
Sometimes, nurses use humor. Jeremy Scott, MSN, RN, CCRN, a resource pool nurse at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says that patients will sometimes be on the phone, and when he walks into a room they say to the person they’re talking to, “My doctor is here. I have to go.” He then tells them that he is their nurse. “People have asked, ‘When will you go back to become a doctor?’ and I jokingly tell them, ‘I’m not interested in all those loans. I enjoy being a nurse.’”
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Sometimes, patients or their family members don’t want a male nurse—simply because he’s a guy.
“I’ve experienced stereotyping as a male nurse. I’ve had patients tell me they don’t want me to be their nurse. I’ve been called gay. I’ve been told by family members that they don’t want me to care for their loved one,” says Carl A. Brown, RN, BSN, director of patient care services for BrightStar Care of Western Riverside County in Sun City, California. “As a nurse—but especially as a male nurse—you need to have a strong outside to let those comments bounce off. But you also need to have a warm heart for those who hold the prejudices. I think it is important for people to know that my gender does not prevent me from providing quality care to each of my clients.”
There are instances in which patients will request a female nurse because of religious reasons. “I respect patients’ wishes because they are in control of the management of their health, so I simply switch assignments. I’m never offended by this,” says Donnell Carter, MBA, MS, CRNA, a clinical staff nurse anesthetist for Northstar Anesthesia at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Robert Whigham, RN, a staff nurse at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia says that it’s common for patients to have preconceived notions about his level of compassion because he is a guy. He’s found that patients in maternity wards and pediatrics may ask for someone else. “They are sometimes uncomfortable with a male nurse helping them,” he says.
In the psychological setting, Hobbs says that “someone who has experienced sexual trauma and doesn’t feel comfortable talking to a man about it” may ask for a female therapist. If they later want to talk with a male, he says that he will be available for them.
Specific Stereotypes for Male Nurses
Les Rodriguez, MSN, MPH, RN, ACNS-BC, APRN, clinical nurse specialist/clinical education specialist pain management at Methodist Richardson Medical Center in Richardson, Texas, says that while in his more than 30-year career as a nurse he hasn’t experienced discrimination, he has come across stereotypes that people think regarding male nurses. They are: all male nurses are gay, men only get into nursing so they can see women naked, men who become nurses are failed doctors, and men go into nursing because it’s easy.
Rodriguez disputes all of them: “In my experience, the number of male nurses who identify as gay is not greater than that reported in the general population. [Re: Seeing women naked] That is an expensive and long, drawn out way just to see what you could see in magazines or strip bars. [Re: Failed doctors] This has to do with relegating the physician to a higher order of professional…Yes, there are some individuals who were in medical school and didn’t survive the program for various reasons, and so they took their academic credits and directed them towards nursing. That does not make them ‘failed doctors.’ It makes them very knowledgeable nurses. [Re: It’s easy] That nursing is easy is a major myth. You are required to learn a lot of detailed information in a very short time…Nursing is not an easy profession, and many males that I have encountered go into nursing because they have a caring disposition.”
Now that we’ve outlined what some of the prejudices and/or stereotypes are regarding male nurses, the next step is to educate them on what they can do. Stay tuned for part two of our series next week where we’ll explore the actions that male nurses can take.
While the nursing field is still comprised primarily of women, the male percentage has continued to grow over the years. Minority Nurse interviewed four men, including one nursing student, to ask why they chose this profession. Here’s what they had to say.
After high school, Jesus Adaniel, RN, CRNI, CCHW, wasn’t planning on being a nurse. He joined the military and became an Army Reserve enlisted personnel and trained as an operating room technician. While there, Adaniel discovered that he loved caring for patients, and between that and the influence of his adopted mom, who is a nurse, he changed his college major from pre-engineering to nursing.
Today, Adaniel is the director of nursing and co-owner of BrightStar of Delray Beach as well as an assistant nurse manager for the Trauma Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Delray Beach, Florida. “Caring for patients is my calling,” he says. After graduating from nursing school, Adaniel became a commissioned officer in the Army Nurse Corp. “I always wanted to work in the critical care and trauma area early on in my career,” he says. “I love the feeling of excitement and the fast-paced atmosphere.”
But it’s not all about how nursing makes him feel. “I am passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of my patients by ensuring and delivering the best care possible,” Adaniel explains. “[Being a nurse] is what I want and love to do. I bring a lot of passion and inspire a desire to make a meaningful change in someone’s life. I value each of my patients as individuals with unique needs.”
Adaniel isn’t the only nurse who came to the field by changing majors. Daniel Satalino is currently a nursing student at Seton Hall Nursing School in South Orange, New Jersey. Satalino began college as a biology-PT dual degree major. But after one semester, even though he did well, he knew nursing was for him. His peer advisor was a nursing student, and he encouraged Satalino to make the switch to nursing. Satalino is glad that he did.
“The thing I love most about nursing is the wide range of opportunities available for you. Whether you love bedside nursing, research, documentation, or want to take it a step higher and become a mid-level provider, there are many specialties that are fit for different personalities, which makes nursing a very diverse field,” says Satalino. “The greatest thing about the profession I have chosen is the ability to help people even if the help may seem minor. The patient will always remember who was at the bedside during their hospital stay.”
Bobby Lucia, MA, RN, LCPC, CT, thought he had found his calling in life. After earning a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, he worked as a pediatric counseling specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, providing counseling services to patients and families affected by chronic and terminal illness. “I loved that counseling had a strong teaching component, and I was able to spend one-on-one time with people,” recalls Lucia.
While working in this hospital setting, he says he was really exposed to nursing. “I liked the unique role that a nurse serves as a care provider, educator, counselor, role model, and advocate,” Lucia says. “The more I became exposed to the nursing profession, the more I knew the nursing profession was my calling.”
About four years into his career as a counselor, Lucia made the decision to become a nurse. He attended Methodist College in Peoria, Illinois, and earned his BSN in the school’s Accelerated Second Degree BSN program.
Lucia now works as the RN clinical coordinator for the Pediatric and Adult Cystic Fibrosis Center at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. “I love that I work with a variety of people—both patients and medical professionals. I get the opportunity to work with pediatric and adult patients in both the inpatient and outpatient settings,” says Lucia. “I love the critical thinking involved with nursing. Taking care of complex patients is like figuring out a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are in front of you, but you have to figure out how they all fit together.”
In addition, Lucia loves his co-workers. “I have a great supervisor and fantastic core team,” he says. “I think that having a good support system at work is essential to be successful as a nurse.”
Like Lucia, Ryan Pettit, DNP, CRNA, says that his first career wasn’t nursing either. In fact, he worked in commercial real estate finance and development. So what made him make the change?
“My mother received incredible nursing care during her battle with esophageal cancer. It was then that I realized I wanted to do something in health care,” says Pettit. “Seven years later, I finally took a leap of faith and went back to nursing school. I was attracted to the many opportunities within the nursing profession. My ultimate goal was to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).”
Pettit achieved that goal and now works as a CRNA at both Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas and CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, Texas. “I love being able to take care of people during surgery. Anesthesia is a scary thing for most people, and I have the unique opportunity to care for someone during this vulnerable time and allay some of their fears,” says Pettit. “I also do obstetric anesthesia, where I have the privilege of making women more comfortable during their vaginal deliveries by managing their pain.”
He adds, “Taking care of people is incredibly fulfilling. Each shift, nurses have the opportunity to make a difference in their patient’s lives. We have the opportunity to be there during a baby’s first breath and a dying person’s last breath. Not many people can say that.”
While nursing still has many more women working in it than men, more and more men are entering the profession each year. Minority Nurse spoke with some men working in the field to find out what they believe could be done to help recruit more men to work in this great career.
Overall, one of the first things that those in the profession need to do, some say, is eliminate the misconceptions about the field. Daniel Satalino, a nursing student at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, says that there aren’t as many men in nursing because of an ongoing stereotype that nursing is solely a feminine field. “Historically, caregiving was thought to be a primarily female responsibility because the female in the family would nurture infants and be responsible for childrearing, while the male would be responsible for hunting,” says Satalino. “However, many men also participated in caregiving as shamans and spiritual healers.”
Satalino also explains that the roots of nursing come from the Catholic Church and the expansion of the Roman Empire where both nuns and monks alike assumed nursing roles in the hospital setting. Likewise, he says, as the plague spread throughout Europe, the Parabolani—a group of men who assumed nursing roles—were the primary nurses for infected people.
“Despite this, many people proclaim that the rise of nursing came with Florence Nightingale, a well-known English nurse who founded standards for nursing care in the mid-1800s, which are still used today. Nightingale also provided education for nurses. However, no males were allowed to enter the profession at this time,” says Satalino. “An influx of males into modern nursing came during and after the second World War, where male nurses were primarily needed in field hospitals and in psychiatric nursing.”
It’s important to know this history, Satalino says, because men have assumed nursing roles in the past, and they can provide great care like their female counterparts. “There have been many campaigns to increase female participation in STEM fields; however, there have been little-to-no campaigns to increase male participation in nursing,” he explains.
Another misconception is the “old school” view that nurses are physician helpers who give baths and hand out medication, says Larry G. Hornsby, CRNA, BSN, senior vice president of operations for the southeast division of NorthStar Anesthesia in Birmingham, Alabama (the company’s home office is in Irving, Texas). “[It] is simply inaccurate and misleading to what this profession has to offer,” he explains. “It is hard to convince the public of the opportunity that exists today with a degree in nursing and the tremendous variation of work choices and the varied job opportunities that exist.”
Besides getting the word out about men working in nursing and what nursing offers, what else can be done to encourage more men to enter the field?
Recruiting more men into nursing begins with educating them. And the earlier, the better.
Carl A. Brown, RN, BSN, is director of patient care services for BrightStar Care of Central Western Riverside County in Menifee, California. Brown has been in nursing for 27 years, having started as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman and a CNA. “It all starts with education. The younger we approach males about choosing nursing as a career path, the more likely they will consider it,” says Brown. “It should be known that nursing is not a female-only career choice. To counteract this notion, I think more male nurses need to participate in community events, career days, or job fairs. More of us need to be out in our communities advocating on behalf of this profession for males. Furthermore, there should be national campaigns launched by nursing organizations to help create more incentives—like a scholarship—to entice more males into the field.”
Matt George, CNA, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, agrees. “The nursing field could attract more men by such measures as having a mentorship program for male high school students—allow high school students to shadow male nurses. This way, they can see what a male nurse does,” he says. The same thing could be done for freshmen at college. In order to attract more males, they need to see males working and achieving in the field. The only way to get more men interested in nursing is by reaching them at a young age and showing them this is a career where men work and can be great at it.”
Hornsby also agrees that reaching high school students would help. Aggressive marketing to the male population is needed as well. “Certainly, the growing need and the autonomy for advanced practice nurses is exciting news that everyone, including men, should hear,” explains Hornsby. “Salaries and benefits have improved over the years, and the opportunities for special work are ever-expanding.”
Explain the Benefits
Another way to help recruit men to nursing is to have male nurses explain why they love being in this type of work. Learning from someone doing the work already can be quite influential.
“For me, the greatest thing about nursing has been my ability to be successful outside the ‘traditional’ role of a nurse. The ability to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and practice to the full scope and licensure in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and physician offices afforded me a tremendous challenge, opportunity for professional growth, and great personal satisfaction,” says Hornsby. “Then moving into a business role and a managing partner/owner of a successful anesthesia management company allowed me to acquire new skills and knowledge, but the opportunity to remain grounded in my nursing roots. Patient care is always at the top of a nurse’s education, clinical training, and a top priority each day. These helped carry me through the business decisions. Other men should really look at the variation of practice roles and how they could fit into an exciting career with growing opportunity.”
Brown has already spoken with a few men who have asked him why he is a nurse. “I tell them that because of my military training, I learned the value of human life and protection our soldiers and sailors. Without those available to fight our enemies, we could not fight to protect those at home,” he says. “In turn, as a nurse today, I tell them that nurses are the most trusted profession there is—more than police, fire fighters, clergy, and educators. We are responsible for ensuring that a father or mother gets back to their children or grandchildren…that we are responsible for ensuring that a family is relieved of the stress of watching their family member pass in distress. Nursing is a field that provides the satisfaction that you have made a difference in someone’s life every day.”