February 25, 2020

Observing a New Man in Nursing Taking an Early Step Toward Establishing a Professional Identity

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of establishing a professional identity as a man in nursing. In that post, I related my experiences of being misidentified as a physician repeatedly by my patients and their families. I ended with a brief “starter list” of suggestions for men in nursing to establish a professional identity. This week, I’d like to point out a concrete example of how another man in nursing, new to the field in this case, exemplified traits that may in the long run help him to establish his own professional identity in nursing.

As a refresher, what follows is an abbreviated version of my list of ways for men to establish themselves in nursing.

  • Cast a vision and develop a mission.
  • Practice with integrity.
  • Fully embrace your role in health care.
  • Practice the Golden Rule.
  • Exemplify organizational citizenship behavior.
  • Be consistent but flexible.

For a bit more detail, please refer to the previous post via the link in the first paragraph.

As I mentioned before, others’ perceptions of the professional identity of men in nursing can be impacted by widespread health care illiteracy and the correlation between health care professionals’ behavior and their roles in health care. There are probably also gender-related assumptions about roles in health care that, in some cases, can present challenges to professional identity.

In my role as a wound and ostomy care nurse, I’m a member of a team focused primarily on inpatient wound and ostomy care at a number of different hospitals in my area. In the hospital that serves as our home base, during a typical shift, I visit patients on three to five different units.

Yesterday, I visited patients on a unit on which I’ve previously worked night shift. I always enjoy returning to this particular unit because I believe I’ve developed a good rapport with the staff there. I’ve traded shift reports with many of them, and I’d like to say they can speak freely with me.

While charting on my patients, several of the staff struck up a conversation, complete with the collegial banter so familiar to nurses. I was not engaged directly in the conversation, but I did notice a vignette in which one staff member, a man new to nursing–I’ll call him James RN–was compared by another staff member to a different male nurse.

Unfortunately, for some reason, the one broaching the subject chose the wrong name for the comparison. Instead of complimenting James, she inadvertently compared him to Randy RN, a former male nurse who is not remembered particularly fondly by staff. She had meant to compare James to Charles RN, a current associate who is an excellent nurse and known by all as both caring and competent.

Jarred by the erroneous comparison, all who heard the comment were confused initially. It was as if no one could think of a valid comparison between the two men. Fully expecting everyone to agree, the speaker began to defend her statement only to realize her error. At that point, everyone –but James, of course–began to laugh, imagining what the universe would be like if James really were like Randy.

The unfolding interaction was interesting to me not because James’ response to the conversation was what one might expect from someone who failed to see the humor in the situation. After all, he had no knowledge of the person to whom he was erroneously compared. Instead, James’ response displayed a combination of composure while at the center of attention and grace as he refrained from joining in what degenerated into a brief period of poking fun at Randy’s foibles.

James exemplified at least two of the practices on my list above. First, he practiced the Golden Rule, being careful not to sacrifice the reputation of another for his own good. He did not even inquire into exactly what was so negative about Randy. He could have, and that might’ve scored him a few cheap points with those indulging in the mockery. Instead, he simply remained silent and continued working, which at the time meant charting.

James also exemplified the practice of being consistent. He allowed the praiseworthy attributes of grace and an even temper to shine through by not participating in the belittlement of Randy. In doing so, James took a step toward establishing a track record of poise and respectful interaction with others.

As I’ve said before, I know I’m only one person with one person’s experiences, and I haven’t studied this issue systematically. However, as I seek to establish my own professional identity as a man in nursing, I’d like to highlight examples I come across of others doing the same, whether intentionally or not.

Men in nursing, what examples do you have of men in nursing working to establish their identity in nursing?

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