Q&A with Noah Zuares: On Being a Man in Nursing
January 21, 2014 —
Current BSN student Noah Zuares shares what it is like to be a male nursing student at Drexel University, his path to the nursing profession, and the reasons why he wanted to be involved in the establishment of the Drexel Male Nurses’ Association.
Chartings: When you were growing up, what kinds of career paths interested you? What led you to pick nursing?
Noah Zuares: Even as a kid I knew I wanted to do something involving science and the human body. I found it funny that I could tell you how my watch worked, but had very little understanding of what was going on in my own body. I wanted to change that. However, nursing was never on my radar. As a male, I had not even considered it until arriving at college. There were points in my life that I looked down on nursing, and what I now see is that I had no idea what nursing was all about. What took me a while to realize (purposefully or not) was that nursing requires many skills and a mentality I could relate to already. This is because I spent the majority of my adolescent life helping take care of my terminally ill mother. I was able to see firsthand how a disease affects a person and family, and how important it is to remove the diagnosis and see them first as a person. This was a difficult, yet empowering experience. Once I got to Drexel (not initially as a nursing student) I was in an English class with nursing students and saw I could identify with how they described their majors. I transferred to the nursing program in the middle of my freshman year.
Chartings: Before coming to Drexel, did you encounter any gender stereotypes related to your chosen profession? How did people respond when you told them you were going to become a nurse?
NZ: Besides the stereotypes in the media-- Ben Stiller’s role as a male nurse in Meet the Fockers to be specific-- I had little exposure to or any positive images of men in nursing. It was not until I decided that nursing was going to by my career that I noticed how little the average person knows about men in nursing and about nursing in general. It was quite off-putting at first. I had to repeatedly convince myself that this was what I wanted to do, realizing what it meant to be a nurse, not just a male nurse. It was an odd experience having to initially defend my decision to become a nurse to almost everyone I met. It was a taxing experience, one that triggered many periods of doubt and questioning by others. “Why not be a doctor?” “Oh… you are going to be a murse.” Having now spoken to many male nurses, this seems to be a common theme. It takes a certain type of person to break the norm and become a male nurse. I believe this experience allows only those in it for the right reasons to make it through this process, as it most likely will not be worth it otherwise.
Chartings: What is it like to be a man in Drexel’s nursing program? Do you ever feel outnumbered by your female peers?
NZ: Being a male in the nursing program comes with its perks and quirks. At first it was a bit alienating, not knowing anyone and not fitting in with the stereotypical nursing student. Finding the other males in the program was a natural, but slower than expected process. You know you have to become friendly sooner or later (part of the reason this organization was started). One aspect that I personally like, but I can see being intimidating, is that the professors know who you are much sooner than your female colleagues. As one in a handful of men, it is much easier for the professors to learn our names, and we stand out in the clinical setting much faster. This can be a positive aspect if you like the additional attention but could become detrimental if you aren’t hoping to stand out from the pack. This can be beneficial in the workforce, as male nurses are statistically known to reach management positions faster than average. It is thought that their visibility requires a higher-level of professionalism, as their actions are more conspicuous than other nurses’.
As for feeling outnumbered, I would have to say yes. Nationally, about 11% of today’s nursing workforce is male, much higher than in recent years. It is simply that there are more women than men.
Chartings: What led you to start Drexel’s Men in Nursing organization?
NZ: I helped take the reins after a graduate from the ACE program, Christian Kraft, did the initial legwork and started advertising an organization for male nursing students. Since he was to be graduating a few months later, I volunteered to take a leadership role and help him form the official Drexel chapter with the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN). There have been organizations on campus that have come and gone over the years aimed at the male nursing population, but joining with a professional group like the AAMN helped solidify the existence of a group and interested more students on campus.
Chartings: What is the purpose of the Drexel Male Nurses’ Association? What does the organization contribute to the University?
NZ: The group is open to all nursing students, men and women. We aim to bring the students together who share an interest in bringing diversity to the nursing community. By being able to advocate for yourself and others you are able build a stronger connection to the profession. We hope to encourage students to realize they don’t need to change to be a part of the nursing community, rather that they can change the nursing community to be a part of them. The most powerful experiences the group has been a part of are attending the national AAMN conferences. These conferences give both men and women the chance to present topics and research not just about men in nursing, but on a variety of subjects otherwise unheard of in traditional nursing conferences. Many speakers aim to encourage nurses and students to become informed and be heard. This is what we hope to bring back to Drexel. By having an outspoken and informed student population, we can bring issues and ideas to the table and encourage change for the better within the school and in the nursing community.
Chartings: What do you think attracts or encourages men to pursue this profession?
NZ: This past October, our group conducted a research project aimed at answering this question. We found that men tend to go towards nursing for altruistic reasons. Our research showed that men identify with the compassion and caring aspects of the profession and hope to make a true difference in their clients’ lives. Personally, I was drawn to nursing for those same reasons. I knew I wanted an honest profession that promoted self-awareness, science, and compassion.
Chartings: What do you think men contribute to the profession?
NZ: In our research we found that men feel they bring professionalism, different perspectives and advocacy for men’s health issues, among other contributions. Personally, I identify with bringing a different perspective to the nursing community. Many times we are taught one way to do something and, as a male, that way is not always the most natural (i.e. comforting a patient in a motherly way). Men are bringing a different perspective and type of caring that is found naturally in males. There have been numerous speakers on this topic at the conferences, discussing how men are thought to be less compassionate than females, but in reality are simply showing that same compassion in different ways. By helping the nursing community become aware of these differences, we can provide better care for our diverse patients with a diverse group of nurses.
Chartings: What are your plans for the future? What types of careers are you interested in?
NZ: My current plan is to continue working in the Emergency Department at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). I have been working at CHOP since my Co-op and find myself most comfortable working with children. My role at CHOP allows me to help shape a child’s hospital experience, an opportunity that has potentially years of lasting health effects. After my time in the ED, I hope to gain a few years of critical care experience and attend school for Nurse Anesthesia.
Chartings: What would you say to a prospective male nursing student looking into Drexel’s programs?
NZ: Nursing school is what you make of it. Classes will fly by, but it is up to you to make that time as worthwhile as possible. You can be involved as much as you desire, and if you choose to become involved, Drexel is more than accommodating in helping those who put in that extra effort. Since you have already made the decision that nursing is for you, you can be certain that Drexel will provide you a multitude of opportunities to get your feet wet and find your calling. But those are opportunities for those who act. Don’t be afraid to speak up in class, or bring your perspective. Nursing will never feel like your profession if you don’t put yourself into it. Be proud of the nurse you are. Oh, and be sure to check out the Drexel Male Nurses’ Association.