While still relatively rare, male nurses on the rise

Luke Acton and Tyler Wessel are a part of a growing trend.

Acton, manager of surgical services, and Wessel, ambulatory services manager, are among 15 male nurses at Schneck Medical Center. There's a male nurse in nearly every department at the hospital in Seymour, about 60 miles south of Indianapolis.

That's a jump from five male nurses in the early 2000s.

While women still hold 90 percent of nursing jobs, the number of men joining the field continues to grow. The U.S. Census Bureau found that 2.7 percent of registered nurses in 1970 were men, and that leaped to 9.6 percent in 2011.

"I think that there is a stereotype as far as when you come into a hospital, you expect your nurse to be a female," said Acton, 34, of Seymour, told the Seymour Tribune. "I never had anybody say, 'No, I don't want you to be my nurse because you're a guy.' Actually, I feel like it's kind of the opposite. I think there's a positive stigma out there for male nurses in general, so I've never had any issue with it. I think that, if anything, it's probably helped."

Diversity and balance

Wessel, 30, of Brownstown said male nurses add diversity and balance.

"It used to be before the male nurse thing, you had doctors were the guys and nurses were the girls," he said. "Now, it's kind of melded. It's more diverse totally. It just let health care be better as a whole. I think the neatest part is just the different angle on things. Guys and girls think differently on a lot of things."

Acton and Wessel both started as registered nurses and worked their way into managerial positions.

Acton developed an early interest in the medical field since his mother was a nurse and his father was an emergency medical technician. In fact, Acton said his parents met on the job.

While in high school, Acton was hired by Vicki Johnson-Poynter, vice president of nursing services, to work in the sterile processing department at Schneck. His job was to package linens and sterilized instrumentation used for surgeries.

"You were around (nurses) all the time, and I kind of felt like I could really enjoy doing that," Acton said.

Beginning at Indiana University in Bloomington, Acton said he had considered pursuing nursing. He made the decision to follow that track after his freshman year.

It took him a little extra time to earn his bachelor of  science degree in nursing because he spent a year overseas leading a medical clinic while serving with the National Guard during his junior year.

Acton said of the 50 people in his nursing class in the mid-2000s, only four were men.

Wessel said all through high school, he had an interest in the medical field. After he broke his leg pole-vaulting and had to go through two surgeries, he knew going into the medical arena was right for him.

"It was right when I was transitioning into college, and I thought, 'Maybe I want to be in health care,'" he said.

Wessel started at IU with the goal of becoming a dentist. But at one point during his freshman year, he decided to switch gears and go with nursing.

"At the time, it was very competitive to get into nursing," he said. "It's right when the real competitiveness started in college."

He transferred to the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville and earned his bachelor's in nursing.

Acton did most of his clinicals in Bloomington and some in Columbus, earned his license, and in 2005 landed a job in the intensive care unit at Schneck.

After a year there, he moved to the emergency department. During his nearly three years in that area, he met his wife, who was an EMT — similar to the story of how his parents met.

At that time, Acton said the split of male and female nurses in the department was 50-50.

"There was a lot of male nurses down there," he said. "It was a good working environment. I think having an even number helps things out a lot. I think it diversifies."

As manager of surgical services, Acton is in charge of the everyday operations of the eight operating rooms, overseeing about 40 employees. He also leads the eight employees in the sterile processing department.

After finishing his clinicals, Wessel started at Schneck in 2008. He also began in the ICU.

In 2012, the ambulatory services manager position came open, and Johnson-Poynter encouraged Wessel to apply. He ended up taking the job, in which he oversees the departments that provide medical care on an outpatient basis.

Wessel said he also gained leadership skills while serving with the Nurse Practice Council, including time as chairman and co-chairman. That involves nurses coming together to discuss patient care-related issues.

Acton and Wessel both encourage men to consider nursing as a career.

A concerted effort

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing schools are making a concerted effort to recruit men and minority students.

"It's ingrained in our DNA almost. It's a culture thing," Acton said of people associating nursing with women. "But there's more and more nurses that are men. It's getting there, it's going that way, and I think the schools like the diversity. The stigma is kind of getting removed."

Plus, nurses have options when it comes to a job. They don't all have to work at a hospital or doctor's office.

"You can do a lot as a nurse — work for insurance agents, lawyers. There's all kinds of stuff you can do," Acton said.

Wessel added there also are research, leadership, quality, pharmacy and psychology areas of nursing people can explore.

The biggest thing for Acton and Wessel is that they like what they do.

"It's a great career," Acton said. "We get paid well for what we do, I think. It's enjoyable work. You get a sense of satisfaction that you're helping people. I think you're kind of drawn to that because you do want to help people."

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