Male Student Nurse Mentorship program in New York

  1. Medicine men mentor nursing students
    June 18, 2003

    Nursing student David LaPierre and registered nurse Rhett Butler at St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell tend to a patient while nursing instructor Linda Panter looks on.

    Male nurse.

    The two words are usually set apart like bookends.

    But if your idea of a "man in uniform" is a soldier, make way for the male nurse.

    One college nursing teacher is making sure more men are comfortable in the role.

    Linda Panter, assistant professor of nursing at State University of New York at Alfred in southwestern New York, is just finishing the first year of an Adopt-A-Nurse program she created to match working male nurses with college nursing students for encouragement and guidance.

    It's about administering doses of kindness. It's about paying it forward.

    Panter, a member of United University Professions, received a Perkins federal research grant for non-traditional

    students that required focus on recruitment, retention and placement of male nurses. Adopt-A-Nurse comes from models of different mentor programs, along with ideas she culled from the movie Pay It Forward, which moved her with its theme celebrating generosity of spirit.

    "The third and fourth time, I watched to see how I could implement it into my program," Panter said. From the movie, she culled the principles of caring, opportunity and growth, and made them the medicine for a program where male registered nurses adopted senior nursing students at SUNY Alfred. They, in turn, adopt freshman nursing students, who in turn adopt high school seniors interested in nursing. Each would pass forward to the next group energy and kindness.

    In the first year of the program, Panter matched four registered nurses with four SUNY Alfred nursing seniors - one female, since there were just four male nurses in the senior class. At the first meeting, everyone watched Pay It Forward.

    "Our main principle is to care and give back," said David LaPierre, a newly minted SUNY Alfred graduate who was matched with - speaking of inspirational movies - Rhett Butler, an RN from St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell.

    According to the U.S. Labor Department statistics, 6.7 percent of registered nurses were male in 2001, edging upward from 5.5 percent in 1990.

    The education path

    When LaPierre joined the program, he was halfway through college. He'd waited a long time for that education. Originally, LaPierre said, he signed up for nursing in 1987, influenced by his mother, a nurse, and his own caring nature. When he was a child, LaPierre once fed a stranded baby bird with an eyedropper. Then there was his familiarity with sports medicine. "I played every sport and I was always in the emergency room," he recalled with a laugh.

    But while he had the stamina to stanch open wounds for patients, he could not close his own.

    Others questioned the idea of a man going into nursing. "I had to fight it from my peer group and from my father," he said. "At 18, I wasn't mature enough to fight it."

    He went in a different direction. He became a truck driver and then an optical fibers technician, a job from which he was laid off at age 33 as the father of six children and three step-children.

    At that point, Pierre took advantage of a New York state program that extended unemployment benefits for people with families who went back to a two-year school full-time in a field with a positive job outlook - nursing. He started work at a hospital within days of putting away his cap and gown.

    "There are so many things you can do in nursing, including sports medicine," LaPierre said. "I didn't realize the broad spectrum of care."

    He'll be working alongside Butler, who "adopted" LaPierre in the SUNY Alfred program after being a nurse for nearly 10 years. He, too, started nursing school as a non-traditional student, after leaving dairy farming at the age of 40.

    "I worked 365 days a year and I was exhausted," he said. After selling the farm, he worked as a certified nurses aide in a nursing home "to see if I could accommodate humans as well as animals," he said. He then went on to become a nurse.

    "I'm never bored," said Butler, who added that it did take him a long time to get used to working with a hospital administration after being his own boss on the farm.

    He said becoming involved in Adopt-A-Nurse has helped him refocus on nursing. "I tend to be an independent, a loner," he said. "This program has brought me out of my shell."

    Panter interjected that the original intent was to have students meet with nurses once a month for four hours, but the pairs have actually gotten together much more often.

    Camaraderie is a longer version of the word "care" for this group.

    "We're going to be in a worse crisis with the nursing shortage," Panter said, "and Adopt-A-Nurse is now getting attention." She hopes other colleges replicate the program.

    - Liza Frenette
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