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November 14, 2002 - The Oregonian, by Wendy Y. Lawton
Hey, fellas: Operation tries to get guys into nursing
The headline reads like a tough-guy taunt: "Are you man enough . . . to be a nurse?"
Underneath the banner stand nine macho men -- Harley rider, black belt, combat medic -- who ply the profession of Florence Nightingale. They are, literally, the new poster boys for Oregon nursing.
The campaign, unveiled Wednesday in Portland, takes aim at nursing's sissified stereotype. The goal: attract more men to a field starved for recruits. A Northwest Health Foundation report released last year found that one in five Oregon nursing jobs will go unfilled by 2010. By 2020, nearly half will go empty -- just when aging baby boomers will need more medical care.
That's why the Oregon Center for Nursing, a nonprofit dedicated to solving the shortage, wants to get the guys early. Next week, the organization is shipping the poster to every middle and high school in the state.
"We need to appeal to the jock freshman or sophomore in high school," said Deborah Burton, the center's executive director. "They need to know that nursing is perfectly compatible with being a stereotypical male."
Nursing, however, has had a hard time shaking its girlie image.
Poster boy Walter Moore Jr., a Kaiser Permanente intensive-care nurse and former Navy Seal, remembers his first visit to the nursing department at a North Carolina community college more than 20 years ago. Dressed in a camouflage T-shirt, cowboy boots and baseball cap, Moore told the secretary he wanted to sign up for classes.
"No, no, no," he recalled her saying. "You must be looking for the welding department."
Even today, when Boy Scouts earn nursing merit badges, the field doesn't always sit well with the Steve McQueen set. When University of Portland student Bill Maddalena announced he was pursuing a nursing career, his father replied: "You'll make a great paramedic."
"Nursing is highly feminized," said Gene Tranbarger, president of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing. "People think about a white woman in a white cap. They think saint or madonna. And that's difficult for a 9-year-old boy to identify with."
Statistics bear this out. In Oregon, 11 percent of licensed registered nurses are men. Nationally, 5 percent are men. With a national shortage looming, guys are being wooed to fill the ranks. Health-products maker Johnson & Johnson, for example, prominently features men in its $20 million recruitment effort.
But only Oregon, Burton said, has created a campaign focused solely on guys. And it's testosterone heavy.
Portland-area nurses on the poster are posed in scrubs
or suits or sporty gear. There's a rugby player, snowboarder, marathon runner, basketball power forward. Everyone's feet are firmly planted. Jaws are set. There isn't a single smile in the bunch.
The bad-boy black-and-white image will soon spring up on billboards and may land on TriMet buses and MAX trains. The center also has rolled out a class for high school boys, dubbed "Men in Scrubs," through the Saturday Academy in the Portland area.
Will the macho appeal work? Nurses said "yes" -- but that the job's versatility, challenge, fulfillment and travel must also be stressed. And there's the pay. The average Oregon nurse makes $25 an hour.
"Show me the money," Moore said. "That works pretty well."