Seven yars ago George Speese, now 27, decided that he no longer wanted to be a printing company salesman. After almost two years of selling letterheads, business cards and newsletter products for an Alexandria printing firm, earning $17,000 a year, Speese wanted a new challenge.
He became a nurse.
"If someone had told me that I was going to be a nurse . . . I would have thought that that was really funny," Speese says. "I know nursing never crossed my mind. But I enjoy going to work as a nurse. It's a fun profession. Ninety-five percent of the time I don't mind going to work, and that's good for me."
Today Speese is an assistant nursing clinician for the neurosurgical unit at Washington's George Washington University Medical Center earning $18,000 a year. He is one of a handful of male nurses on the staff and is in the head nurse supervising the 24-hour care of presidential press secretary James Brady.
Speese also in one of about 65,000 men who have chosen a profession that is at least 97 percent female. For that reason, some nursing schools across the country are engaged in a push to attract more men.
"I don't mean to sound sexist, but more males in the field will help alleviate [some problems] . . . they won't be as transient," Speese says.
Dr. Rose Marie Chioni, dean of the nursing school at the University of Virginia, agrees that men are part of the solution to nursing's problems.
"It's very important that we have more men in nursing," she says. "It might bring more stability to the field."
Chioni, who heads the 275-member American Association of Colleges of Nursing, says a growing belief among many of her colleagues is that a significant increase in the number of men will boost salaries, prestige, and eventually the number of persons opting for a nursing career. In recent years, nursing has seen its numbers drop considerably because of low pay, low morale and increasing workloads.
"Very prominent in our minds now is recruitment and the shortage," Chioni says. She says that new recruiting ideas aimed at men probably will be a popular topic at her associaton's convention in Washington this October.
The lastest figures on male nursing students, provided by the National League for Nursing, echo Chioni's view that any growth in the number of male nurses will be slow, at best. Only 4.6 percent of nursing students were men in 1972, compared to 5.7 percent in 1975 and 4.7 in 1978.
But male nurses in the Washington area still are rare, officials say. At Arlington Hospital, only about 13 of that staff's estimated 300 nurses are men. Eight of the 130 nurses at Capitol Hill Hospital are men, said spokeswoman Anita Schmied. Commonwealth Doctors Hospital in Fairfax has two out of 180, officials say, and Washington Hospital Center reports about 40 men on its staff of 800 nurses.
Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of male nurses has almost doubled since 1972, from 19,000 registered nurses in 1972 to 45,000 in 1980. The number of male licensed practical nurses dipped slightly during that period, from 12,000 to 11,000; overall, there were 25,000 more male nurses in 1980 than in 1972.
"I think it's beginning to turn around," Speese says. "More guys are showing an interest [in nursing] at an early age."
Speese says men are learning to deal with the stereotype of nursing as a non-masculine profession, and today more men are willing to express their interest in it than a few years ago.
For Curtis Farrance, a nurse who also is an assistant professor at Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala., the stereotype was not a factor when he entered nursing. He says he decided to pursue nursing after serving in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam during the late 1960s.
"It was different in the military" because of the all-male atmosphere, Farrance says.
Some shools are taking pains to see that male nursing candidates have an easier time entering a profession that is almost all-female.
One school that has set the pace in recruiting men is the University of Pennsylvania. The school recently gained prominence with a catchy public relations poster that ran as an advertisement in newspapers, magazines, and on subways and buses. It showed a boy being treated by his father, with the caption: "Wehn I grow up, I want to be a nurse. Just like my dad."
The University of Virginia even has begun to work with high school counselors to change sexual sterotypes they may have about nursing, and to encourage more males to think about nursing as a career in high school.
Despite some school's well-publicized attempts to recruit men, Dr. Luther Christman, dean of hte nursing program at Chicago's Rush University, and a past president of the Male Nursing Association, said he doesn't see "any massive movement" by nursing schools to attract more men.
"Only a few schools have made a strong effort," said Christman, who added that only about half of all people trained as nurses actually work in the field. About 85 percent of the male nurses stay in nursing permanently, compared to about 35 percent of the women, he said.