MEN IN NURSING
Trailblazers share their insight at ECU Diversity Day event
Why does diversity matter?
This was the question that directed a conversation held recently at the East Carolina Heart Institute featuring trailblazers of the nursing profession sharing insights with current and future nurses.
Nursing is about asking the “why?” questions, like learning why one course of treatment works for some and not for others, clinical assistant professor Cheryl Elhammoumi said in her opening remarks.
“We have a social contract to fulfill — we care,” Elhammoumi said. “We have to know more. We have to search and know more whys. We have to search for that underlying cause. And once we find that underlying cause, we have to remove it and help heal.”
The College of Nursing’s Diversity Advisory Council and the Chapter of the American Assembly of Men in Nursing sponsored the event, which featured two distinguished veterans of the profession who have helped the pave the way for men in the field. College of Nursing professor emeritus Dr. Gene Tranbarger was the North Carolina Nurses Association’s first male president and was later inducted into the NCNA Hall of Fame. He is also a former president for the American Association of Men in Nursing.
Dr. Ernest Grant is the incoming president of the American Nurses Association and also a former president of the NCNA. Grant will be the first male president of the ANA, beginning his two-year term on Jan. 1, 2019.
During the two-hour discussion, Grant and Tranbarger shared their eye-opening experiences about how nursing has changed, how it has stayed the same, and where it’s headed in the future.
“Overall, if you were to drill down, there’s one core concept (that has not changed) and that is, nursing still serving in the role of advocates for the patients and what is going to be best for the patients,” Grant said. “Today, as nurses, we have a lot more resources than what was available to me in the past. That can be a plus and a minus. I’m embracing technology but sometimes I think we’re losing that instinct that kicks in in your mind that asks: ‘Am I doing the best I can for the patient, or is there something else that could be done?’”
As men in overwhelmingly female field, the two have navigated challenges different from those of their female colleagues.
“Prior to Florence Nightingale, about half of the people who provided nursing services in this country were men. Within a few years of Florence Nightingale and her establishing the school of nursing in London, it fell to one percent,” said Tranbarger, who co-edited the book “Men in Nursing: History, Challenges, and Opportunities.” “That number has climbed very slowly. It was about one-and-a-half percent when I graduate in 1959. We have skyrocketed up to nine percent now — isn’t that dramatic?”
Tranbarger relayed to the audience how, early in his career, fellow nurses circulated a petition requesting that he not be employed when he was hired at Greensboro’s Moses Cone Hospital. During his time in the Army Nurse Corps, he lived in a building labeled “Women’s Officers Building,” which they refused to change because “they didn’t know how much longer men would be in that building.”
Grant explained how he had to work to make sure he was treated as an equal to other nurses with the same qualifications.
“One of the biggest prejudices that I’ve probably encountered was in my first years of being a nurse — male nurses at the time, you were more or less considered an orderly, like a nursing assistant,” Grant said. “I remember having one of my colleagues come up to me and say, ‘Do not let them use you as an orderly. You have gone to school. You have earned the title of a registered nurse. That means that you’re going to have to stand your ground at times,’ and I’ve had to do that. Eventually, they got the message. I think those challenges still exist.”
Both Tranbarger and Grant emphasized the importance of diversity in nursing, and in its leadership.
“The height, weight, gender, color of skin, all of that are simply distractors that keep us from knowing the person that is in that body before us,” Tranbarger said. “So I think that if we can start with the premise that this is a person that is going to be important to me for the next minute, next hour or whatever, and forget the distractors, we will come to know and learn a lot that we will miss otherwise.
“You may deprive yourself of one of the best gifts of your life if you allow yourself to be distracted by characteristics that may have no relationship to you and your interaction.”