Nursing schools tapping overlooked demographic: Men

Shoulder to shoulder they stand, nine tough customers starring in a black-and-white ad.

One is a Harley rider, another a Navy Seal. A snowboarder is on one end, a basketball forward on the other.

“Are you man enough … to be a nurse?” the text asks.

The poster 퀌_ for which the Oregon Center for Nursing, which created the ad, found licensed nurses with rough-and-gruff hobbies or backgrounds 퀌_ was borne of the nationwide nursing shortage.

Staffing levels are 20 percent below the ideal, according to government labor reports. Experts say 126,000 nursing jobs could be filled right now 퀌_ if only there were enough qualified candidates.

For anyone who asks, “Why go after men?” there is only one answer: “Why not?”

“Nurses are compensated well now,” said 26-year-old Jason Turi of Haledon, N.J., a former teacher who is studying for a baccalaureate in nursing at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. “There’s so many different roles 퀌_ you’d be amazed.”

Danny Verina, 33, of West Milford, N.J., joined the same program after spending six years in the fitness industry.

“I found there were a lot more career opportunities in nursing,” Verina said. “You’re able to change departments. You can go from labor-and-delivery to clinical care to emergency room to gerontology.”

That men could bolster the nursing ranks is no new idea. The first known nursing school, opened about 250 B.C. in India, admitted only men. During the Crusades, monks and knights tended to wounded soldiers.

During the U.S. Civil War, the recuperating sick or injured cared for new arrivals from the battlegrounds. By the late 19th century, however, the face of the profession started to change, as social attitudes steered women toward “nurturing” work such as teaching and healing.

Today, just 5.4 percent of the country’s nurses are men, according to a survey released in February 2002 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s well-known that men in this field are the targets of mean-spirited stereotypes 퀌_ being effeminate, underachieving and worse. A recent film aside 퀌_ remember Robert De Niro berating Ben Stiller for his choice of career in “Meet the Parents”? 퀌_ the cruelty is dissipating, nurses say.

“If you look at the roots of this profession, we really evolved out of that �40s model of being a doctor’s helper,” says Deborah Burton, executive director of the Oregon Center for Nursing. “Men were treated terribly or made to feel there’s something wrong with them. It hasn’t been until the last 15 years or so that we’ve talked about it being a problem. We’re changing a very sick and inaccurate image as we go after men.”

Johnson & Johnson, the New Brunswick, N.J.-based health care products company, started addressing the nursing shortage in March 2002 with a $20 million print and video advertising campaign that prominently featured men in the profession. Of 70 or so nurses profiled on its Web site, about a third are males.

At Hackensack University Medical Center, recruiters this fall are planning a campaign all their own: pitching to all-male high schools in North Jersey.

“More and more hospitals are trying to get men into the mix of things,” said Patricia Brady, a nursing recruiter for the hospital. “It brings a different perspective. It adds a nice dynamic to the unit.”

Brady said recruiters impress upon all prospective employees, male and female, the personal reward of caring for the sick, but also the good pay and benefits and the advantage of gaining new skills. These are crucial selling points in a job market still smarting from the failure of so many Internet-based businesses.

Nationally, the median base pay for registered nurses is $41,642, according to a survey by Allied Physicians. In New Jersey, the numbers are even better: Starting pay for RNs is in the low- to mid-$50,000 range, according to the nursing center at Rutgers. Tack on advanced degrees, and pay can nearly double.

“You don’t have to work a Monday-to-Friday day-hour shift,” Brady says. “As your career evolves, you may start as a staff nurse. Ten to 15 years from now, you may want to go into another kind of nursing. We’re really facing a shortage. It’s one of the fields where you don’t have to worry about finding a job.”