Linfield outpaces national average in male nurses

The number of male nurses nationwide is on the rise, but still lags behind females. Males, such as Avi Best ’17, make up 17 percent of Linfield nursing students enrolled this year.

The patient, an older woman in Georgia, did not want Paul Smith as a nurse. With patience, he convinced her to let him help, though she said she wouldn’t allow him to do any personal care. Over the course of Smith’s 12-hour shift, the woman slowly grew more comfortable and eventually dropped all of her objections.

Smith, now an assistant professor at the Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing, shares that story from years ago with male students to help them understand the resistance they could face in the field. But that isn’t the only reason he tells the story.

“I want them to understand how they, as nurses, can demonstrate being caring, confident and competent,” Smith said. “They can provide care that is evidence-based and not specific to gender, but relates more to the human side of nursing — the aspect that uses both science and art to deliver care.”

Paul Smith, assistant professor of nursing at the Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing.

The number of male nurses nationwide is on the rise, but still lags far behind females. According to a 2015 National Nursing Workforce Survey, among nurses licensed between 2013 and 2015, slightly more than 14 percent were male. That compares to just 5.8 percent of males identified in a 2000 survey.

Linfield numbers are higher yet. The enrollment for the 2016–17 school year included 17 percent male students. The stereotype of nursing as a female field, reinforced in movies, TV shows and elsewhere, may be one reason fewer males opt in.

Smith blames “the way that nursing has been portrayed in the media as a female role, just like many have viewed physicians as a male role.” But he sees the tide turning, with more male students expressing interest.

Originally a pre-med biology major, Kyle Davis ’17 wanted to do something in the medical field. He said people automatically assumed that meant he wanted to be a doctor. After job shadowing doctors and nurses, however, he realized nursing was the better choice.

“I realized that nursing was more of the patient interaction side of things that I wanted to do,” Davis said, “more of the hands-on kinds of tasks that I found interesting and why I fell in love with medicine in general.”

A lack of male role models, including male faculty, also impacts the low number of male nursing students. The Oregon Center for Nursing found in a 2014 survey of nursing faculty that just 6 percent were male, while 12 percent of registered nurses in Oregon were male.

This, too, is changing. When Smith joined the faculty in the fall of 2014, he was the only male nursing professor at Linfield. Today, he is one of three.

“Linfield has a commitment to diversifying the student population, which will result in diversifying the workforce,” Smith says.

Jonah Flores ’16, who completed his nursing degree in December, believes male nurses can bring different skills to a medical facility. For example, he’s found that some male patients respond better to him, and his size and strength have been useful.

“I’m kind of a bigger guy, so it is easier for me to haul around those larger patients,” Flores said.

Linfield is also reviving the student ‘Nursemen’ club. The group gives male students from different cohorts the opportunity to talk about common issues they face in the profession.

“The goal is to have a place where the guys on campus can just be guys, but also to become more community involved,” said Erick Ferguson ’18, who helped restart the club this year. “Next semester, I would like to start looking at some community outreach volunteer opportunities, and perhaps some high school speaking just to encourage the next generation of students to consider nursing as a career.”

The story Smith tells about his female patient in Georgia all those years ago, and the lessons about quality of care, seem to have hit home for Linfield’s male students.

“When people come into the hospital, it’s a very emotional time for them, they are vulnerable,” Davis says about why he has become even more passionate about his chosen career. “I just love to be that person they look to and put all their trust in to take the best care of them.”