In August, I wrote about misidentification of non-physician health care professionals (HCPs) as physicians and how it may relate to the establishment of professional identity by men in nursing. This past week, during my four shifts, I experienced no fewer than six instances in which my being a man became the basis of an exchange with a patient, a patient’s family member, or another staff member. I initiated none of these exchanges myself, and at least a couple of them were fairly awkward.
The exchange that stands out to me most involved a patient for whom I was providing ostomy care. Our team had been attempting to resolve a difficult pouch fitting issue, and I was visiting her to apply a combination of pouching products we had not yet tried. Despite the difficulty we were having, the patient was in good spirits. During the course of our visit, she asked me how I had come to be involved in health care as an ostomy nurse. I don’t know whether she had understood prior to my response that I provide both wound and ostomy care to patients, but I think that became clear in my response.
I began by stating that I entered nursing as a second career and proceeded to describe a bit of my previous career and transition to nursing. However, I didn’t get far because the patient stopped me to clarify that she was specifically interested in how or why I, being male, had become an ostomy nurse. At first, I didn’t know what to say. After all, it had never occurred to me that being male could affect a nurse’s suitability to provide ostomy care.
The situation would’ve made more sense to me to had she simply wondered why a man would become a nurse. That at least would’ve been consistent with common gender-related assumptions about the composition of the health care workforce or the suitability of men for nursing as a profession. However, she had deviated from the typical pattern of questioning in that she added the aspect of ostomy care specifically.
In retrospect, I suspect the patient considered ostomy care to be an area of patient care about which one might say that “it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.” In reality, there is nothing about ostomy care that’s so “dirty” a man shouldn’t provide it. Consider all of the men in the world who are providing such care on a voluntary or uncompensated basis for themselves or for loved ones.
In the end, I chose to resolve the issue without engaging in a discussion of why ostomy care should be considered beneath a man’s dignity to provide. Instead, I proceeded to connect ostomy care to the other major branch of my current realm of nursing care: wound care. Wounds are often much “dirtier” than ostomies, literally and figuratively. I told her I enjoy being able to provide wound and ostomy care to patients and to be able to observe the positive results of my care in improved wound status, even healing, or in patient independence with ostomy care.
I’d like to this was a responsible way to have handled the conversation, and I hope I managed to elevate both men and women in nursing who provide wound and ostomy care. What do you think?