More Men Flocking to Lady Industries? Ask My Brother, The Murse

I ask my brother Steve how he ended up working in a profession that is overwhelmingly dominated by women, nursing.
Publish date:
May 23, 2012
health care, sara benincasa, family business, nursing

Me and Steve after his nursing pinning ceremony.

When I was growing up, my younger brother Steve was indisputably the cooler one. He was universally acknowledged to be a funny, good-looking dude, and he seemed to effortlessly charm everybody he met. He was also smart, but didn't care much for school and didn't obsessively nerd out over grades and SATs the way I did.

If you'd asked me to describe Steve's primary passion, I would've been hard-pressed to give you one. I was a student and a writer; my dad was a businessman and a golfer; my mom was a librarian and a mom, which is a full-time pursuit unto itself. My brother tried different things, but mostly seemed intent on having a good time.

When we became adults, I flitted from college to college and career to career: first there was the hippie grocery store career trajectory, then the high-school teaching phase and the attendant grad school investment, then I decided to be a stand-up comedian, and eventually I figured out writing was really where it was at for me.

My brother majored in business and went into the business world when he graduated. Then, a couple years ago, he shocked the heck out of all of us by telling us he was going back to school to become a nurse.

I'm really proud of him, and I brag about him to many people (including, now, all of you). But it recently struck me just how unusual it is for a 28-year-old dude's dude to choose the path of professional nurturing. I wanted to know how Steve, who is not the most feminine dude in the world, ended up working in a profession that is overwhelmingly dominated by women. But according to the New York Times, "Over the last decade, men have begun flocking to fields long the province of women." Apparently he's on trend! Here's some more from a pretty cool recent Times article:

While women continue to make inroads into prestigious, high-wage professions dominated by men, more men are reaching for the dream in female-dominated occupations that their fathers might never have considered.

The trend began well before the crash, and appears to be driven by a variety of factors, including financial concerns, quality-of-life issues and a gradual erosion of gender stereotypes. An analysis of census data by The New York Times shows that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.

That does not mean that men are displacing women — those same occupations accounted for almost two-thirds of women’s job growth.

After his recent graduation from a two-year nursing program, I asked Steve why he, personally, chose this unexpected route.

Did you always want to become a nurse?

No. I didn't always want to be a nurse. I didn't really know what jobs there were out there, like in general, in the world. I just knew what my parents did and that was about it. I didn't know what a nurse was or what they did and I didn't know my work habits or preferences at that point to even make a decision.

So you majored in business.

I did. Management and marketing at Northeastern. What what!

Did you like it? Did you think this is what I want to do for the rest of my life?

What, business? Halfway through college I realized, "I don't want to actually do this," but at that point it was too late -- at least, I had thought. I guess I thought I was a lot older than I was at 21 so I just stuck through with it and thought everything would work out eventually. Until I graduated and realized that cubicles are soul-crushing.

So what made you choose nursing as a second career?

I spoke to some nurses when I worked for a car rental agency in Hawaii. Some of the travel nurses were my customers. Some of the people in the Medical Corps were my customers. They all kinda sold me on it. Strangers, mind you, who had no reason to sell me anything. They were just talking to a taxicab driver, essentially. Also some [economic] research on my part around 2008 when the TV was telling us the world was going to fall apart.

So you were one of the few dudes in your nursing program. Tell me about that. Did you bond more with the guys because there were so few of you?

Um, well, like any minority, you just kind of pool together because you have something in common. Also, with all that estrogen in the room it really was helpful to just guy out in the middle of the day and talk about sports and not the Bravo channel.

The badass cake our mom got for Steve after graduation.

Has nursing always been primarily a female profession?

Yeah. It developed, basically, thanks to wartime, as did many other industries. Once it gained respect, I'm assuming more men were attracted to it. The healthcare world relies on nurses more and more because they're more educated than they have ever been before and are still reasonably low-paid for their level of education and expertise.

Do you think women are actually more nurturing than men?

I think it depends on the point of view of the healthcare consumer. I'll take it back to Freud. If your mom was more nurturing or your grandma was more nurturing, women might be more nurturing to you as a consumer. And that's thankfully, perhaps, the case for most people. But if your father played that role, you might feel comfortable with a man taking care of you.

Also being nurtured is such a complicated thing because there's a spectrum of nurturing. There's also a spectrum of times where we require nurturing. For instance, I don't know, you're in a war scene or there's some terrorist attack and your leg is split in two. You might want a bunch of burly dudes who look like they could FSU [translation: fuck shit up] taking care of you. But if you're sick with a chronic illness, you might want a more maternal figure helping you and empathizing with you.

How did patients react when they saw that their student nurse, you, was a guy?

Well, there's no easy answer to that because there's so many different types of patients. You know, when someone's in a hospital or in some state of deteriorating health, you really see who they are or who they were. People are so friggin' different over the generations. Old people sometimes look at me and they'll start talking about a male, like their father, their uncle, their brother, and they'll call you by that name. Other times they'll find comfort in having a man in the room and the room will completely change. A technique we use is called changing faces. When a patient is not having a good relationship with the nurse that they have, you just bring someone else in and have them do the exact same thing you were doing. I find that when you change faces and it's a man, it often really helps.

Some women are more uncomfortable with nudity for sure. People confuse me with a doctor and will listen to what I say more than the women because they think I'm a doctor.

I've had young female patients not want to mention that they're on their period to me, or other vagina-related things.

What was it like doing your maternity clinical experience, as a guy?

I feel strange telling a woman about her body when I have just learned this material within the past five years and she's had the equipment her entire life. Also I can't relate. I don't know what it feels like to have pain down there. Just like in any job, you give personal advice from your personal experiences, what worked for you. And in that sense I have no idea what works for your vagina.

What was it like watching live births?

It wasn't beautiful, I'll tell you that much. But it wasn't terrible either. I thought it was fascinating. The only beautiful moment is 10 seconds after it's born, the look on the parents' faces, immediately interrupted by the alien womb sack spilling out of the vagina. Maternity floor is the happiest place in a hospital 80% of the time and the saddest place 20% of the time. These are real facts that I just made up out of nothing.

Did you witness a birth that didn't go well, or a miscarriage or anything really traumatic and difficult like that?

No, they don't really let the nursing students in on that. So if you're having a baby and there's nursing students around, things are going decently okay. But I witnessed a C-section.

Ewww, don't they take the organs out and put them in a pan?

No, but they do take your uterus outside of your body and place it on your stomach while they might be talking about golf. They then sew it back up and stuff it in you.

How did maternity patients react to your presence?

They stared at me a lot.


Like, "What do you want?" And then they would say as little as possible and just kind of go along with it.

How did the women in your program react to witnessing births?

Some of them almost passed out. Some of them had a hard time concealing their horror. Eventually some of them learned to really enjoy it, but they definitely had sort of that shock factor that I didn't have. It was fascinating because these are women who have kids and who've had multiple pregnancies. Apparently it's very different from the other side of the table.

So do you think more men should enter the nursing field?

No, I don't think they should, because I want to get a job. I like being the minority. There's a comfort and strength patients take from men. I don't think men are praised for that or recognized for that in our society. People feel stronger and protected when men are around. And you can analyze that all you want, but those are good things.

Steve after graduation.

My bro takes his official state board exams in a few months. I know he will rock them.