BY ROSE RUSSELL
Kevin Cischke left a music career after 25 years to pursue a new one in nursing, and it won’t bother him that he’ll be a man in a profession largely dominated by women.
As the face of the nursing profession slowly changes, Mr. Cischke, 45, is among the growing number of men signing up for the job. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, slightly less than 10 percent of the 3.5 million nurses in 2011 were men. That’s up from 1970, when only 2.7 percent of nurses were males.
For Mr. Cischke – who will receive a bachelor’s in nursing next year from Mercy College — nursing is in line with his interests. When introduced to nursing, the former organist and choir master for the Archdiocese of Detroit fell in love with it.
“A couple of my close friends who are nurses said I should look into this profession to see if it would interest me,” he said, during a break from his externship in the emergency room at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. “It was a whirlwind love affair that has not ended, and I don’t suspect that it will.”
Craig Albers, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Mercy St. Charles Hospital, said men in nursing offer an important component in the delivery of public health care.
“In the past, nursing was more of a pink collar profession and more of a career for women. A lot of times it’s seen as a profession for Caucasian women. Now, with large numbers of baby boomers retiring and seeking health care, we need a diverse workforce able to work with a diverse population,” said Mr. Albers.
A nurse himself since 1998, he began his college studies pharmacy. When he decided he needed more patient interaction, a professor suggested he look into nursing.
“I job shadowed an ICU nurse and the role really appealed to me. That’s what led me to the profession,” he said.
While also acknowledging the importance of racial diversity, Mr. Albers added, “Each of those different minorities bring a special perspective and skill set in how they work with and relate to patients.”
It was the patients who also attracted Mr. Cischke.
"I enjoy the patient-care side of things. I wanted hands-on patient care. That's what drives me, and the fact that I can continue to learn and grow fits my personality perfectly," he said.
He also liked contributing to the profession and addressing concerns of his male peers. In fact, when they discovered something missing in their nursing school experience, he led the way to establishing a local chapter of the American Assembly of Men in Nursing. The organization addresses issues that affect men in nursing. About 20 men and five women are members of the group.
"I continued to explore what the assembly had to offer, promote, and to accomplish and I realized that their goals aligned with what we needed to have at Mercy to support our male students," said Mr. Cishke, one of 116 male students in the nursing program.
The organization will also help groom male nurses for retiring baby boomers who increasingly use health care. Health professionals who deliver care to boomers must be on their toes.
"Our baby boomer population will be very informed and knowledgeable and Internet and computer savvy, and people going into the nursing profession will have to be extremely knowledgeable and confident and able to communicate with their patients because the patients are very knowledgeable," said Mr. Albers.
While male nurses' physical strength is also a plus for patient care, Mr. Albers said more men joining the field may pursue advanced fields in nursing, such as management, administration, business, and anesthetics. Those advanced career possibilities attracted Daniel Koehler to the profession.
"One of the great things about nursing is that once you are in it and have a job and have some experience after a few years, you can go into management, get a master's, or PhD," said Mr. Koehler, 32, who is in the nursing residency program at ProMedica Flower Hospital. "There are so many different avenues you can go into, so it was kind of a no-brainer that I picked this."
He received a bachelor's in nursing from Lourdes University in December. Eight years ago, he obtained a bachelor's in human biology from Michigan State University. He then worked in the restaurant and fitness businesses before going to nursing school.
He wasn't intimidated by the predominantly female profession, and in fact received positive responses from others.
"Most guys don't grow up thinking they want to be nurses," as many girls do, said Mr. Koehler, whose mother was a nurse in Germany. "With the guys I've met in the profession, I think less of that stigma now days."
Though slightly less than 10 percent of ProMedica's nurses are men and slightly more than 8 percent of the nurses in the Mercy health system are men, the idea that nursing is a woman's job stopped Roberta Pratte's father and grandfather, both medics in the military, from continuing in the profession. As a teenager, Ms. Pratte — a Mercy nursing professor — recalls hearing her grandfather speak fondly about nursing.
"Back then it wasn't something that men talked about or thought about. I sensed that they regretted that they were not allowed to follow their dream," said Ms. Pratte, an instructor at Mercy College. She has been a nurse for 33 years, and her mother was also a nurse.
Large numbers of nurses are expected to retire soon, adding to the already critical nursing shortage. That's why the profession is pushing to attract men and women into nursing. As a matter of fact, the American Assembly for Men in Nursing is campaigning to increase the number of male nurses by 20 percent by the year 2020, said Ms. Pratte. She also said the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reviewing how to fill nursing positions to ensure that the public gets proper care.