Written by Sarah Okeson
Joe Long first thought of becoming a nurse when his wife was hospitalized for a week during her pregnancy with their second child. He now works at Mercy Hospital Springfield, taking care of patients in the intensive care unit.
“Nursing is manly,” Long said. “It’s not just for women.”
About 6.6 percent of nurses nationwide are male, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. In Springfield, about 7.3 percent of nurses at CoxHealth are male. At Mercy, about 11.4 percent of the nurses are male.
The American Assembly of Men in Nursing was formed in 1971 in Michigan to provide support for male nurses. An Ozarks chapter is being started. There are also chapters in St. Louis and Kansas City. The organization also is open to women.
“It’s a very female-oriented world and we’re OK with that, but men still need to socialize,” said Paul Pope, the chapter president and a nursing instructor at Southwest Baptist University.
The executive director of nursing at Mercy Hospital Springfield is a male nurse, Kurtis Abbey.
Nurses like him have faced some of the obstacles that women entering predominantly male fields have faced. There have been lawsuits and complaints about isolation.
Rick Leroux, a nursing instructor at Southwest Baptist, got into nursing with the encouragement of his aunt. He learned how to make chitchat with children and to be absolutely honest about whether a medical procedure would hurt.
He treasures moments such as an encounter with the adult daughter of a man he had cared for who had a heart attack. She hugged Leroux and thanked him.
“Those are the moments we live for,” Leroux said.
Female employees at Mercy said they appreciate male nurses when it comes to lifting patients. They also value other qualities such as help in dealing with sometimes-disruptive families.
“We have a lot of difficult patients,” said Becky Pierce, who has worked at Mercy for about 40 years. “For each difficult patient, you have family members who sometimes need the physical presence of a man.”
Dr. Tobey Cronnell said male nurses tend to be more supportive of female doctors.
“I particularly enjoy working with male nurses as a female physician,” Cronnell said.
Long recently tended to John Goar, 73, who was admitted to Mercy Hospital Springfield after having trouble breathing.
Long gave him insulin and some other medication and then told Goar that his relatives were on their way to visit.
“He’s as good as a woman,” Goar said.
Long left Goar’s room. He was about halfway through his 12-hour shift. He doesn’t miss his previous career as a loan officer for a mortgage company.
“It’s the first time I have a job where I actually look forward to going to work,” he said.