Once upon a time there was a nurse who felt bad because not enough African American men wanted to be nurses. She thought it would be good for sick people in hospitals if there were more nurses who were black men. So she decided to do something about it. She wrote a children’s book called My Hero, My Dad The Nurse, about a little boy who wants to be a nurse when he grows up, just like his daddy. Then she went to lots of schools and read her book to all the kids. The kids and their teachers liked the book very much. They all lived happily ever after, and some of the kids might even grow up to be nurses. The End.

Actually, that’s just the beginning of the story. And fortunately for the nursing profession, this story isn’t fiction.

My Hero, My Dad The Nurse is a real-life children’s book written by Maggie Thurmond Dorsey, EdD, RN, associate professor of nursing at the University of South Carolina Aiken. And young readers aren’t the only ones who are responding positively to the book. Dorsey’s efforts to encourage more African American males to consider nursing as a career are also being applauded by grownup audiences, including the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN).

It all started back in 2002 when Dorsey, then a doctoral candidate at Georgia Southern University, was trying to decide on a topic for her dissertation. “I had been teaching for 20 years at that point,” she recalls. “One of the things I’d noticed is that we’ve had, and continue to have, very few African American men in our nursing program [at USC Aiken]. I didn’t know if this was something that was unique to our school [or if this was the case in other nursing programs as well].”

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To find answers to that question, Dorsey surveyed over 240 schools that had baccalaureate nursing programs. “My research confirmed what I had seen at USC Aiken: that very few African American men were entering nursing programs, and even fewer were graduating from them,” she says.

Since then, working to increase the recruitment and retention of African American men in nursing schools has become Dorsey’s mission and passion.

“I think that all well-educated and trained nurses can provide safe, quality care to all people,” she emphasizes. “But we do provide care to a very diverse population. Many patients feel [more comfortable] when they have caregivers who are similar to them. I think African American men bring to the table some unique social and cultural characteristics and experiences that can only enrich the profession of nursing.”

Mother Knows Best

Why did Dorsey decide to tackle the problem by writing a children’s book? “The nursing school administrators I surveyed for my dissertation research didn’t think that going into elementary schools was an effective approach for recruiting African American men into nursing,” she admits, “but that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I’m a mother of three [grown] sons and I was very involved with them as they were growing up. I used to read to them quite a bit. I really believe that we have to plant seeds of success early with our children. [It may be too early to get them interested in a specific career, but we can teach them] that they can be somebody if they work hard.”

Dorsey wrote and rewrote the story, interweaving ideas based on her personal and family experiences. Michael David Daniels, the little boy who tells his story in the book, is named after her three sons, David, Daniel and Michael Dorsey. The name of the schoolteacher in the book, Mrs. Earl, was inspired by her mother, a retired teacher, and her father, Earl, who was a school principal.

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To illustrate the book, Dorsey chose local art teacher and USC Aiken alumnus Lorenzo Williams, BA, MAT. “Mr. Williams has a wonderful story himself,” she says. “He was a high school dropout and he was working in a school as a janitor. A teacher there told him: ‘Do you want to spend the rest of your life cleaning toilets?’ This opened his eyes. It was not the way he wanted to spend his life. So he got his GED, went to technical school and then came to USC Aiken to earn his master’s degree.”

Now all she needed was a publisher for the book. She eventually decided to self-publish through BookSurge, a print-on-demand publishing company.

“I knew that the traditional way of getting a book published was to write it and then send it out to a publisher with a query letter and wait for a response,” she says. But Dorsey was so passionate about the project that she didn’t want to wait; she wanted to publish her book now.

The paperback edition of My Hero, My Dad The Nurse came out in June 2008. Dorsey subsequently published a hardback version especially for libraries. She also worked with the multimedia technology department at USC Aiken to produce an audiobook version, which she says includes “wonderful sound effects.”

Sharing the Story

Over the past year, Dorsey has maintained a busy schedule of traveling to local elementary school and kindergarten classrooms to read her book to the students. She also did a reading at a Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) leadership conference sponsored by the South Carolina Hospital Association.

Dr. Maggie Thurmond Dorsey and Lorenzo Williams, author and illustrator of My Hero, My Dad The Nurse, present their book as part of Children’s Week activities at the Augusta Museum of History in Augusta, Georgia.Dr. Maggie Thurmond Dorsey and Lorenzo Williams, author and illustrator of My Hero, My Dad The Nurse, present their book as part of Children’s Week activities at the Augusta Museum of History in Augusta, Georgia.

“There were 600 high school students there,” she explains. “I was a little nervous about reading the book to teenagers, [since it is written primarily for younger children]. But the high school kids got into it!”

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In fact, the book has received rave reviews not just from students, but from parents, teachers and librarians as well, Dorsey reports. “I’ve just been so thrilled with the response,” she adds. “This has just been a wonderful opportunity.”

Although My Hero, My Dad The Nurse can be purchased from Amazon or BookSurge.com, “it’s not something that we’re really selling commercially,” Dorsey says. “Most of [the promotion] has been local and word of mouth.”

This fall, Dorsey will be bringing her message to a national audience: She was invited to be a keynote speaker at the 2009 American Assembly for Men in Nursing national conference, to be held October 23-24 in Cincinnati.

“I am extremely excited and humbled to be going,” she says. “When I got my invitation, their email said that they had heard me present the book. I was really surprised, because I don’t know where they heard me present it. But someone in AAMN had heard me read the book and they knew of my interest in, and passion for, encouraging men to become nurses.”

So what’s the next chapter in this story? Dorsey says she’s planning to write more children’s books “about the same little boy and his daddy, the nurse.” She is already working on the second book in the series, again illustrated by Lorenzo Williams, which she hopes to publish later this year. In the meantime, she says, “I’m enjoying sharing my story. It has given me a lot of joy. And I hope that my book gives others as much joy as it has given me in sharing it.”

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For more information about My Hero, My Dad the Nurse, including how to buy the book, contact Dr. Maggie Thurmond Dorsey at [email protected], (803) 641-3268.

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