More than 2.9 million registered nurses currently practice in the U.S. Men comprise about 5.8 percent – or 168,181 – of that number, according to the 2004 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN), a study conducted every four years by the Health Resources and Service Administration. Although men still represent a very small percentage of the total RN population, their numbers have grown, increasing by 14.5 percent since the 2000 NSSRN survey. Since 1980 when the number of men was estimated at 45,060, the number of male nurses has more than tripled.
Some Historical Perspective
Although nursing has been predominantly female in the more recent past, men have historically played a key role in this profession. The first nursing school in the world was established in India around 250 B.C., and only men were allowed to attend and become nurses. During the third century, an organization of men known as the Parabolani brotherhood provided care to the sick and dying during the Black Plague epidemic in Europe. In the fifth century, St. Benedict established the Benedictine Nursing Order.
During the Middle Ages, knighthood orders such as the Knights Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights provided nursing care to their sick and injured comrades. These orders also built, organized and managed great hospitals in Europe during this time. St. Camillus de Lellis, a patron saint of nurses who began as a soldier and turned to nursing, initiated the sign of the Red Cross to signify nursing care, and developed the first ambulance service.
In the U.S., men played a very important role in nursing during the Civil War. One of the most famous was poet and writer Walt Whitman who served as a volunteer nurse at a hospital in Washington D.C. during much of the war. He captured his experiences in a collection of poems called “Drumtaps.”
Female nurses began to dominate the profession at the turn of the 20th century when they organized into groups such as Female Nursing Schools and Nurses Associated Alumnae of the U.S. and Canada, which later became the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 1917. Men were excluded from the ANA until 1930.
Military nursing became almost exclusively female in 1901 when the U.S. Army Nurse Corp was established with the stipulation that only women could serve as nurses, even if a man was already an RN when he enlisted. It was more than a half century later, after the Korean War, when men were allowed to return to military nursing. Subsequently, the number of male nurses in the civilian population also began to increase gradually, growing from less than 1 percent of registered nurses in 1966 to nearly 6 percent today.
Male Nurses at CKHS
At Crozer-Keystone Health System, it is estimated that 6.7 percent of all registered nurses are men, 13 percent higher than the national average. These male nurses come from diverse backgrounds. Some worked previously in construction or the business world. Others were paramedics and EMTs. Some were influenced by family members and friends who were nurses.
Recently, seven CKHS male nurses shared their thoughts about working in this female dominated profession. All agree that they have been widely accepted by patients, physicians and fellow nurses, regardless of gender, although a few noted that they did not feel particularly welcome in labor and delivery.
In addition to literally doing some heavy lifting, these male nurses agree that men have a special knack with humor and problem solving on the job. Several believe that men are often outspoken and likely to question a physician when they have concerns about a patient’s plan of care. All have great respect for their fellow nurses, male and female, and take great pride in being part of the nursing profession. Following are their stories.
Meet Rob van den Brand, RN
Rob van den Brand, RN, Crozer-Chester Medical Center
Eighteen years ago, Rob van den Brand, RN, was a foreman in the construction industry. After experiencing a string of cyclical layoffs typical to that industry, he decided to pursue a different career that would give him more opportunity to help people as well as more job security. Much to the surprise of his construction co-workers, he chose nursing. Did he take a lot of ribbing from his buddies about entering this female-dominated field? “You bet!” he says. “At first, even my kids asked why I couldn’t become a doctor instead of a nurse.”
Nevertheless, van den Brand knew nursing was right for him, completed the education to become a licensed practical nurse and joined Crozer-Chester Medical Center in 1992 as an LPN on 1 West, providing care to trauma and med/surg. patients. After five years, he moved to Inpatient Rehabilitation, where he worked until 2004, followed by three years on the Psychiatric Unit.
During this time, he served on Crozer’s Nurse Practice Council and began working toward his RN diploma, which he received from Bucks County Community College in 2008. This opened new career possibilities, and after a brief stint on the 2 North monitored medical/surgical unit, he decided to pursue critical care. In July 2009, he joined Crozer’s Critical Care nursing pool, which serves the Nathan Speare Burn Center, Shock Trauma Unit, Cardiovascular Unit and Medical Intensive Care Unit.
“Critical care is very exciting and challenging work. The training is very rigorous and I am so impressed by the knowledge and talent of the nurses on the critical care units,” says van den Brand, noting that he will pursue certification in trauma and burn care as well as ACLS and pediatrics courses over the next few years.
Van den Brand has always felt well received by patients and colleagues despite his “deep voice and rugged exterior.”
“I was used to barking orders as a foreman on construction sites,” he relates. “I’ve toned that down a lot as a nurse! Humor is my number one way of connecting with my patients, and they seem to enjoy it. Recently, a patient said that my jokes made her forget for a while why she was there. I always like to try to make my patients smile.”
That has been more of a challenge since he moved to critical care where patients and their families often face life or death situations. “I’ve experienced more codes in the last 12 weeks than in all my years of nursing combined,” says van den Brand. He’s still learning how to cope with losing patients and helping their distraught families, but finds great reward in helping patients get well.
“Becoming a nurse was a great decision,” he emphasizes. “I couldn’t have done it without the tremendous support I received from my wife, family and friends. It’s important to find what you really love to do in life and I really love helping people get better.”
Meet Frank Tanzosh, RN
Frank Tanzosh, RN, Delaware County Memorial Hospital
During the early 1990's, Frank Tanzosh, RN, was studying to become an architect at the New York Institute of Technology. It was a profession that appealed to him because, he says, “In architecture, you create spaces in which people live their lives and if you design well, these spaces will contribute to their overall happiness.”
But Tanzosh became disillusioned when he discovered the highly competitive nature of his chosen field, and began searching for another career path where he could more directly help people. When a friend told him about a position at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Staten Island, New York, he was on his way to a career in nursing.
Tanzosh began as a mental health technician in St. Vincent’s psychiatric unit, running patient groups and assisting the nursing staff. He was drawn to the operating room when the hospital offered a training course for surgical technicians. “Surgery interested me because of its technical and tangible nature,” he explains.
A New York City native, Tanzosh relocated in 1999 to Pennsylvania where his wife was teaching, and he joined Delaware County Memorial Hospital as a surgical technician.
Now a surgical nurse in the OR and SurgiCenter at DCMH, Tanzosh finds many rewards in his work. “As an OR nurse, you play a unique role as patient advocate,” he notes. “When you first meet your patients, they are usually very afraid and don’t know what to expect. You need to establish rapport and gain their trust quickly so that you can help put them at ease. Once they are under anesthesia, you become their voice because they can no longer speak for themselves. I find great reward in carrying out that responsibility.
“It’s great to be part of a team that is doing something very tangible to improve someone’s health in a very short time,” continues Tanzosh, who plans to join the Association of periOperative Nurses (AORN). “You know, for example, that when a knee replacement patient wakes up and leaves recovery, that person will eventually get up and walk with greater ease and no pain, and over a period of time may play golf again or engage in other activities that he or she previously enjoyed. You really feel that you are making a difference in that person’s life.”
According to Tanzosh, one of the biggest challenges in the OR is the rapid rate at which equipment and medical science advance. “The science behind new surgical procedures is evolving daily and equipment changes about every eight months,” he explains. “You constantly have to educate yourself to keep up.” He plans to become certified as an OR nurse in the near future.
As co-chair of the DCMH Nurse Education Council since 2007, Tanzosh helps to ensure that all nurses at the hospital stay on top of their game. Recently nominated for another two-year term as co-chair, he is proud of the role the council has played in improving patient outcomes.
Meet John Kennedy, RN
John Kennedy, RN, Springfield Hospital
John Kennedy, RN, began his career in healthcare in 1980 as an EMT and became a paramedic four years later. During that time, he became interested in emergency nursing and decided to pursue an RN associate’s degree in nursing, which he received from Delaware County Community College in 1988.
Since joining Springfield Hospital in 1987, Kennedy has worked in the ICU and the ER, and functions as a paramedic or supervisor as needed. He has been part of a critical care ambulance service that transports infants from suburban hospitals to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and has also served on a critical care transport team helicopter crew, working with balloon pumps and other high tech devices.
A native of Delaware County, Kennedy enjoys medically challenging patients. He likes to figure out the puzzle of their symptoms and see the solution and treatment return them to wellness. “At Springfield Hospital, we see many patients with challenging diagnoses such as osteogenesis imperfecta because of nearby facilities like Don Guanella, Devereaux Foundation, and Elwyn,” notes Kennedy, who was named Springfield’s Employee of the Year in 2004. “Many nurses encounter such diagnoses rarely or only in nursing books.”
Kennedy’s years of experience help him to work smoothly and calmly, bringing emergency situations under control efficiently. Having children of his own with extensive medical problems has helped him to become more comfortable in caring for this population. It also fostered the development of his personal philosophy: “What you don’t know, you learn.”
Proof of that philosophy are his many certifications, which include BLS, ACLS, PALS, CEN (Certified Emergency Nursing), HazMat Operations Level, EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course), PHRN (Pre-Hospital Registered Nurse) and GEMS (Geriatric Education for Emergency Medical Services).
Meet Frank Heinze, RN, BSN
Frank Heinze, RN, BSN, Taylor Hospital
In 1970, Frank Heinze, RN, BSN, had just left the Peace Corps, where he served as an agricultural worker in Nepal. While attending a wedding, a friend asked, “What are you going to do now?” Heinze replied in jest, “I don’t know. I may have to become a nurse like my sister.”
As fate would have it, a representative was there from the Crozer Foundation School of Nursing, now part of Widener University. Hearing Heinze’s comment, she asked if he would consider attending their nursing school. “They were actively recruiting men because they always liked to have at least one man in every class,” explains Heinze, who already had a bachelor’s degree in German. “I told her that I didn’t have any money, and she said they would pay for my tuition. So I became a nurse and it was the best thing I ever did.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in nursing from Widener, Heinze served as a staff nurse at Crozer-Chester Medical Center for several years, then as a nurse manager at Fitzgerald Mercy before going to Thailand with Catholic refugee services where he ran a hospital for Cambodian infant refugees for 13 months. When he returned in 1981, he joined Taylor Hospital as nurse manager on a pediatrics unit. Later, he transferred to pre-admissions testing where he worked until 2007. Now semi-retired, Heinze works in nursing admissions.
Like most nurses, Heinze has often found it difficult to leave his job behind when he goes home for the day. “You form strong emotional bonds with some patients, especially those you’ve known for a long while. Even though you try not to get too attached, it’s hard when they start going downhill,” he says.
As a nurse manager, Heinze took pride in helping staff nurses develop their full potential. “One nurse on my staff was Nancy Politarhos,” he notes. “She was a great nurse and I’m really happy that she advanced into administration, where she’s doing an equally great job.
“I’ve found that women are good administrators and planners because they usually take a long range view,” he adds. “Men tend to be more focused on solving the problem at hand and taking immediate action.”
Being part of a predominantly female profession has never bothered Heinze. “Nursing is a very stimulating, intellectual profession,” he says. “I have the utmost respect for my colleagues. They are so smart and dedicated. Nurses really run the hospital!”
Meet Vince Minnucci, RN, MHS
Vince Minnucci, RN, MHS, CKHS Home Care
Vince Minnucci, RN, MSHS, was always drawn to medicine. He considered becoming a physician but lacked the funds for medical school. Instead, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in business at Penn State, then worked as a production and shipping supervisor for eight years. “It was just a job,” he says. “I felt an emptiness inside and still had the desire to work in the medical field.”
Minnucci’s personal physician encouraged him to try nursing, so he attended Delaware County Community College at night and on weekends to earn his associate’s degree in nursing. After two years in medical/surgical. at Haverford Community Hospital, he joined Taylor Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit in 1983. For more than 20 years, he worked in critical care units, including the OR, Recovery, CCU and Emergency Department, as well as the ICU. “I enjoyed the challenge of critical care,” relates Minnucci, who also holds a master’s degree in human services. “It’s rewarding to see people recover from very serious problems. It gives you a great sense of accomplishment.”
Since 2004, Minnucci has served as a home care nurse in Crozer-Keystone’s Home Care/Hospice Unit. “It’s a completely different kind of nursing with a big patient education component,” he notes. “I enjoy helping home care patients get well and stay well, and the flexibility of my schedule helps me to meet the needs of my family.”
Minnucci says that most patients accept him as a male nurse, but a few women have requested a female nurse. “It’s important to respect their feelings,” he says, We’re all professionals, no matter what the gender.”
Meet Bill Pentecost, RN, BSN
Bill Pentecost, RN, BSN, CKHS Hospice
When Bill Pentecost, RN, BSN, entered the field of healthcare in 1983, he began as a paramedic, first at the former Sacred Heart Medical Center in Chester, then with Crozer-Keystone. Over the years, he had a growing interest in the nursing profession, fueled by his wife, Ruth, an emergency nurse. In 1998, Pentecost made a natural segue from paramedic to nurse when he joined the staff of Crozer-Chester Medical Center’s Emergency Department after receiving his bachelor’s degree in nursing from Widener University.
Last year, after many years in the frenetic world of emergency medicine, Pentecost decided to shift gears. He had been considering hospice nursing for a while, ever since his father became terminally ill and went on hospice care before passing away. “I saw firsthand how much a hospice nurse helps the family as well as the patient, and I always thought it might be something I’d like to do,” he says.
In May 2008, Pentecost joined Crozer-Keystone’s Home Care/Hospice Unit, bringing an ideal combination of training and experience to the position. Years earlier, he had majored in pastoral studies at Philadelphia College of Bible where he earned his first bachelor’s degree. Although he decided that the ministry was not his calling, he always had a deep desire to help people, and hospice care seemed a perfect fit.
“My spiritual training has been extremely beneficial in offering emotional support to some of my patients,” says Pentecost. “They appreciate the fact that I’m willing to discuss spiritual issues with them as they face the end of life. One patient asks me to pray with her very time I visit. Another frequently asks me to read from the Bible. They find this very calming and encouraging.”
Among his many elderly patients, Pentecost finds that the men are often glad to have a male nurse caring for them. His female patients are also very accepting. “I try to be very sensitive to their feelings and have respect for their privacy while providing care,” he says. “They also appreciate a good sense of humor and a gentle touch during an exam. They are often surprised that male nurses can be just as gentle as their female counterparts.”
Pentecost loves his work. “I get up every morning and look forward to the day,” he says. “For me, nursing is not a job. It is my vocation.” His enthusiasm has had a positive influence on another male nurse. Following in his footsteps, his youngest son, Alan, is now an ICU nurse.
Meet Jason Spare, RN
Jason Spare, RN, CKHS Supplemental Staffing
When Jason Spare, RN, was growing up, he regularly witnessed the excellent care that nurses provided to his parents who both suffered from chronic health problems. So when he came to a career crossroads about 10 years ago, it was natural for him to consider nursing. “I saw nursing as a noble and honorable profession and, because of my experience with my parents’ illnesses, I always had compassion for people who were sick,” he says.
Spare decided to leave his construction job and pursue an RN diploma at Delaware Technical & Community College. In 1999, he joined Christiana Health System, where he quickly gravitated to emergency medicine, rotating between the ERs at Christiana and Wilmington Hospital. Later, he was chosen to serve as an ICU transport nurse, an achievement in which he takes great pride. “As an ICU transport nurse, you are responsible for making a lot of critical judgment calls on your own,” he relates. “I loved the autonomy and was proud to be selected from a very competitive field.”
In 2006, Spare joined Crozer-Keystone’s Supplemental Staffing, where he continues to specialize in emergency nursing at all four of the system’s emergency departments. “I love the fast pace of the ER and the need to constantly think on your feet,” he says. “You never know what situation will come through the door next, and I thrive on that. I also enjoy the collaboration between physicians and nurses. My biggest reward comes when patients thank me for the care they received. That means a lot.”
Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Wilmington College, Spare likes the flexibility of working in Supplemental Staffing. He encourages other men to pursue nursing. “It’s a great career with a wider variety of opportunities than most people realize,” he says.