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Cizik School of Nursing faculty and alumni talk about the shifting landscape in nursing profession opportunities

Colin Hills, BSN, RN, a 2020 graduate, worked in a hospital emergency department before working as a health maintenance systems operations and developing processes and procedures for the International Space Station. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)
Colin Hills, BSN, RN, a 2020 graduate, worked in a hospital emergency department before working as a health maintenance systems operations and developing processes and procedures for the International Space Station. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)

The ratio of men to women in the nursing profession has remained stubbornly low for decades, but male faculty and alumni of Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston see that changing.

“To solve the nursing shortage, we need to attract people of all genders to the field,” said Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, MSN, RN, dean of Cizik School of Nursing. “We must break down any lingering perceptions or barriers that discourage anyone from considering a nursing career.”

Long gone are the days when nurses’ uniforms included stiff white hats, and men interviewed for this article perceive no disadvantages based on their gender. Yet waning stereotypes still exist and can cut both ways.

“Male nurse” characters have tended to provide bumbling comic relief on TV and in film, noted Lance Edwards, BSN, RN, a 2021 graduate of the school. He sees retiring such inaccurate caricatures as one step toward eliminating any lingering stigma. “The way the media portrays the roles of both women and men has a significant influence on how people perceive gender roles and expectations in society,” he said.

A London native, Edwards was a psychologist before immigrating to Houston with his Texan wife. He counseled teens and their families at the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department before becoming a nurse and now works in the emergency department (ED) of a local hospital.

The ratio of male nurses to female nurses is more evenly split in EDs, noted Colin Hills, BSN, RN, a 2020 graduate. He worked in a hospital ED before a colleague suggested he apply for a job as a KBR, Inc., contractor at NASA. As a health maintenance systems operations specialist, Hills develops health-related processes and procedures for the International Space Station and will soon provide support for the Artemis moon missions as well.

“I am so privileged to be able to work with some of the most capable, intelligent, and driven people in the world every day, and we’re working together on a mission that I personally think is humankind’s most noble undertaking,” Hills said.

When he worked in the ED, Hills observed some of his colleagues experiencing challenges common to women in almost any line of work. “I used to get mistaken for a physician all the time, and I never saw one of my female colleagues get mistaken for a physician,” Hills said.

Conversely, Edwards notes that very occasionally a patient will ask for a female nurse. “I have been told by both patients and patient families that they had been skeptical of men in nursing and their ability to demonstrate caring and compassion, but I have had the privilege of changing these perceptions,” he said.

Nurse anesthesia is another specialty in which men are more likely to pursue careers. Peter Slivinski, DNP, MSN, assistant professor in nurse anesthesia at Cizik School of Nursing, earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing and worked in local hospitals for several years before returning for his graduate studies and then teaching in the school’s highly regarded nurse anesthesia program.

“I imagine with the ever-changing economy, more and more men will go into nursing as they see it as a stable profession,” Slivinski said.

Stability is one factor that drew Hills to nursing, along with the ability to grow throughout a health care career. Previously, he had worked in prehospital roles as an emergency medical technician and with wilderness search-and-rescue teams but found opportunities for advancement limited in that field.

“Being a nurse doesn’t necessarily mean pulling five shifts a week on a med/surg floor your entire life if that’s not what you want. You can make nursing whatever you need it to be,” Hills said. “Nursing is a hugely rewarding career that will allow you to build a meaningful life, whatever that means to you.”

All agree with alumnus Brandon McAnulty, MSN, RN, that they are observing more men in nursing scrubs. McAnulty is the chair of Cizik School of Nursing’s inaugural “Men in Nursing” group.

“I know a lot of men who are going into nursing, and I feel it is exponentially increasing every year,” McAnulty said.

His career path illustrates one of the factors attracting people of all types to nursing — the many and varied avenues and opportunities available to nurses. McAnulty has worked in a neurotrauma intensive care unit, earned his Master of Science in Nursing to become an adult/gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, switched to cardiothoracic surgery, and is now a surgical nurse practitioner in a head-and-neck surgery unit at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Daniel Arellano, PhD, RN, assistant professor in the Department of Undergraduate Studies at the nursing school, works at MD Anderson full time as a nurse practitioner in the ICU, and teaches part time at the school. He is also occasionally deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of a Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

“The nursing profession is so broad with so many different options for people to pursue,” Arellano said. “It’s a great opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life and to provide care that truly can’t be provided by any other profession.”

These professionals agree that anyone considering a career in nursing — regardless of their gender identity — should wholeheartedly assess the many opportunities nursing offers.

“If you have the heart, the knowledge, and the drive to work in the medical field, being a nurse is one of the most rewarding career paths you can choose,” McAnulty said.

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