NEW YORK NURSE: February 2008
by Mark Genovese
Even though it was a school holiday, more than 70 Boy Scouts from the lower Hudson Valley eagerly attended a merit-badge seminar. They were learning about the nursing profession from male RNs at Westchester Medical Center (WMC).
The idea to introduce boys to nursing through scouting was the idea of NYSNA member Anna Sers. “The Girl Scouts have had such programs for years. I thought we should figure out a way to attract boys, as well,” Sers said.
Sers, whose own children were Scouts, found there was leeway in the criteria for the Medicine Merit Badge to include nursing. In designing the educational sessions, Sers tried to include as many men as possible as instructors and tailored the activities toward the interests of young boys, such as touring the fast-paced Emergency Room or seeing the Stat-Flight helicopter.
“Boys talk to men about other careers, but rarely about nursing. This gives them that opportunity,” Sers said. “The boys are surrounded by their peers, so they don’t feel ostracized for talking about a maybe-not-so-macho profession. The idea is that kids shouldn’t be turned off by other people’s perceptions.”
Sers started her first scouting program, “Are you strong enough to be a nurse?” in Dutchess County in 2003. It was a success and continues to grow. The program has been covered in nursing publications in Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. Johnson and Johnson liked the idea so much it set up a website: www.scoutsexplorenursing.com.
Scouts are drawn to the program by the opportunity to earn a merit badge. Parents are won over to nursing by the fact that their son can graduate with a bachelor’s degree, make $50,000 or more on his first job, and have hospitals vying for his services.
The program, coordinated by Sers and NYSNA member Ginger Bosco, covers education, basic nursing duties, specialization, and how RNs fit into the big picture of health care. The highlight is a panel discussion in which male RNs tell their stories about what they do and how much they love it. Panel members are enthusiastic and the Scouts are interested and excited, as they are throughout the day.
“We tell them that, the same way people would have looked at a woman oddly for going into a fire department or the police force years ago, the same paradigm was there for men in nursing,” said NYSNA LBU chair Sam Caquias, who moderated the panel discussion.
“As time has gone on, things have changed. We talk about a profession that’s wide open for men, now you can work anywhere,” Caquias added. They discuss military nursing and emergency medical training. They tell the Scouts that nursing gives them an opportunity to go all over the world, helping people in places where there are natural disasters.
The panel encourages the Scouts to start out by taking a basic first aid course, then perhaps becoming an EMT or paramedic. They add that many men who are now in nursing came from other jobs and bring with them a variety of experience.
“We help people get though difficult times,” said RN David Long. “It feels good to go home to your family at the end of the day and know you did good service to save the life of someone who could have died that day.”
“I have no problem telling people I’m a man and I’m a nurse,” added his colleague, Rich VanAlstyne. “It’s a way to give something back. If you want to make a difference in somebody’s life, you can be a nurse.”
One panel member, who is now a supervisor, discussed the opportunity for career progression. He said that not only can RNs work at the bedside, they also can be in leadership roles, and get involved in guiding and supporting care.
At the end of the panel presentation, the Scouts had a chance to ask questions. They asked quite a lot. One inevitably was: “What’s it like to work with all women?” The men, of course, said it’s fun.