Many a man has succumbed to the notion that one mustn't soften his heart or his hands so as to not lose face amongst his peers. But as author Max Lucado so eloquently put it, "A man who wants to lead an orchestra, must turn his back to the crowd."
When I was a boy, I would sometimes watch my grandfather return home late, caring for patients all day. He would retire for the night, but alas, the telephone would ring and soon after he would re-emerge from his room, medical bag in hand and off he would go. Sadly, I don't have too many memories left of him. He died when I was rather young. I was nine. Since then, however, I cannot remember a time when I did not want to become a doctor.
After I graduated high school in 1995, I allowed my mother to convince me to move to Louisiana and live with her until I began college. Perhaps it was the regret I felt over leaving her to live with my father throughout my high school years. Rather, it could have been the commiseration I felt for her and the situation she had found herself in at that time; a story I think I will eschew for now. Nonetheless, I capitulated.
Back then I knew little of 'out of state' tuition costs. Did you know college tuition fees can be up to five times more expensive for an out-of-state resident? It was because of this exorbitant expense that I began seeking other options until I could attain a permanent residency status in Louisiana.
While waiting for my Louisiana residency I had many jobs. I held a position at a boat repair and restoration company, I played and sang music in a local Mexican restaurant cantina, and even worked as a night clerk at a convenient store; all positions that would give me no leverage at all when it came to submit a portfolio to a medical school admissions department. Again, no guidance.
Soren Kierkegaard said "Boredom is the root of all evil-the despairing refusal of being oneself." Needless to say, during that time, I was bored. Give a young man hormones and an opportunity for mischief and he's sure to find it. At 20 years old I did. I became a boy with a son.
No one ever told me "You have a son! You'll have no trouble getting financial aid to attend college!" Instead, I was told, "Well, son, you can kiss medical school good-bye. You need to get a job-a real job." So I did. I got a job working on an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Working in the oilfield is hard work; dangerous work. However, I enjoyed the it...kind of. I worked "14 and 14", which meant I worked fourteen 12-16 hour days in a row and was off fourteen days in a row. I learned a lot; a lot about myself and a lot about life. Most of all, I learned to love people no matter what their socio-economic background was.
After a few years of that, and a downward turn in the economy, oil rigs were getting "stacked" and the layoffs began. At 24 years old I had filed bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy means complete liquidation of all remaining assets, while allowing you to keep a few remaining 'exempt' properties. I kept my car and my home. I thought it a great opportunity to return to the idea of attending college. However, despite being jobless, the financial aid department determines your eligibility for financial aid based on your previous years income. Thus, I was deemed ineligible. It was imperative that I find a job quickly.
"It's not about what you know, it's who you know." Fortunately for me, I knew someone who knew someone. In this case, it was the director of human resources at a paper manufacturing plant called Willamette Industries. I was hired after two interviews and was as far away from medical school as I had ever been.
After three years of paper manufacturing, I had become determined as ever to figure out how I was going to get into school. After some time I relinquished my position and accepted a job that allowed me to have a far better tax advantage and would eventually lead to my admission into Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.
I had mulled over the idea of pursuing a baccalaureate degree in Biology, Chemistry or Physics. However, I resigned to pursuing a degree in Nursing. Although the majority of nurses are women (89.9% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) I never considered the profession of nursing exclusive only to women. My thought was if I was not accepted into medical school upon graduation, what would I do? Teach? Instead, I decided that obtaining a nursing degree would give me a prodigious amount of hospital and patient care experience while bolstering my portfolio as well. Boy did I get a lot of grief for it from my peers...at first.
As I progressed through college, I soaked up every bit. I enjoyed every course and even found subjects I had no prior interest in to be fascinating! One, of which, was Sociology. I learned to love classical music through a few music appreciation classes. I found that I have a deep connection with literature and even the spoken word. I stumbled through Spanish courses coming out with fluency, which I use in the hospital setting today. I flourished in academia!
Once I began my clinical experience, nursing really got interesting. I had taken a part time job working in the emergency room of a local hospital as an Emergency Room Tech. I befriended a few male doctors, who just so happened to be my age. I was later learn from them that being a doctor had become different than it was back when my grandfather was practicing.
Many of the doctors and medical students I had come to know would secretly tell me how they had become burnt out and that pursuing a nursing degree was a worthwhile goal, one they now secretly wished they had considered. Please don't take my words out of context here. Most doctors, I know have not expressed this to me. I am speaking of a very small few doctors with whom I was friends. It validated my choice and caused me to think deeper about my future decision of pursuing medical school.
In 2008 I graduated from the nursing program at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana with my baccalaureate degree. I now have been working as an ER and ICU nurse for the past ten years and it has been an awesome ride. I've met a ton of really great people, I have a pretty successful blog, I started a pretty lucrative business with my wife, I've had the opportunity to speak to large crowds over issues I'm passionate about and now even head the American Association for Men In Nursing's southern region of the US.
Just last year I decided to take, what I believe to be, the logical next step and return to school to obtain my Masters Degree as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. The nursing profession didn't just change my life, it saved my life. It was a rocky road for my family and I for so long, and I have left a lot out.
This brings me back to my initial thought at the beginning of this post. I know men, as of today, that would not take a job as a nurse because of the stigma associated with men as nurses. There are ideas floating around out there that men cannot 'care for' people the way women can; that men don't have compassion enough or the capabilities of being as empathetic or sympathetic as women do. On the flipside, there are men out there that would consider themselves a 'laughing stock' to men everywhere if they were to pursue such a role.
It's because of these negative connotations involving men as nurses that I have become such a strong advocate for men in nursing. I know so many men out there struggling to survive; struggling to make it in their professional life. I believe nursing could be that answer for so many. The nursing profession is not slowing down. It's poised to grow at least 16% in the US between now and 2024 and there are plenty of positions for men to fill. Men are needed more than ever. Diversity in healthcare is never a bad idea. Furthermore, men have much value to offer. I encourage every man looking for a change or just an opportunity to give it at least a 'once-over'.
I'm not certain what the future holds for me, but I know it's bright. Who knows? I might even decide to go to medical school.
Well, enough about me. I appreciate you for taking the time to read through this whole post. I hope it wasn't too ponderous. I've been known to be a little circumlocutory at times. If you found this valuable and you know of some guy out there who might benefit from reading this, share it. It might just be the hope he needs to get out of a situation that's stressing him and his family out. It might just change his life like it did mine.