Male Nursing Students Launch Support Group

‘Men in Nursing’ Achieves National Status

Nursing student Jason Hebert works with children in Ghana during semester break.

Nursing student Jason Hebert works with children in Ghana during semester break.

06/24/2011
By Karen Angelo

A desire to care for people propelled Matt MacDonald into a female-dominated profession. He bucked the stereotypes, became a registered nurse and graduated in May from UMass Lowell with his bachelor’s degree in nursing. 

But before he left, he launched a new student group – Men in Nursing – to help male students succeed in a profession made up primarily of women. MacDonald, who hopes to deliver babies one day, wants people to know that men can be caring and compassionate while offering unique perspectives to clinicians and patients. 

“We have a melting pot of patients,” says MacDonald, who currently works at an assisted living facility. “I think that clinicians should better reflect the demographics of the patient base, which includes a diversity of race, ethnicity and gender. By offering different perspectives and understanding, we can improve the delivery of care.”

Group Gains National Status

The group of about 20 members, which formed last fall, was recently approved as a campus-based chapter of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing. The national organization offers professional development and scholarships to advance men in the profession and is open to all UMass Lowell alumni, faculty and students. 

The campus group, Men in Nursing, is a student-run undergraduate organization. The group’s adviser Prof. Geoffry Phillips McEnany, who has been a nurse since the 1970s, can appreciate the roadblocks and stereotypes that male students face.

“Back in the 1970s, when my sister drove me to Massachusetts General Hospital for my first day of nursing school, the welcoming committee enthusiastically congratulated my sister and didn’t even consider that I was the student,” recalls Phillips McEnany, who went on to specialize in psychiatric and mental health nursing. 

The number of men in nursing nationally has risen only slightly since then, from 2 percent to 9 percent today. UMass Lowell tops the national average at 12 percent. 

Today, Phillips McEnany laughs about the mistaken identity but believes that by increasing males in the profession, we can stem the nursing shortage and ultimately improve care.

“I have never regretted my decision to be a nurse, but we should always look for ways to improve the working conditions for the next generation,” he says. “With the student group and now our status in the national group, UMass Lowell will be on the forefront of paving the way for more ethnic and gender diversity in the nursing field, allowing various perspectives to be integrated into care decisions.”

The group will work with admissions, attend open houses and visit organizations within the community to make men in nursing more visible and therefore accepted. Officers of the group include President Josh Clark, Vice President Dave Surprenant, Secretary Josh Gonzalez and Treasurer Matt Faler. Officers for the UMass Lowell chapter of American Assembly for Men in Nursing will be elected in the fall.

Defying Perceptions

For MacDonald, pushing past old stereotypes may get a little tougher as he pursues his next dream. He’d like to become a “midwife” – a trained professional that provides prenatal care to mothers and delivers babies – but is uneasy with the old English label meaning “with woman.” 

“I want to specialize in labor and delivery and hospice care. I want to help bring life into the world and comfort those leaving this world,” he says.

Now that’s compassion.