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UTHSC Working to Increase Ranks of Males in Nursing

Nursing student Robert Kirby poses with children during a mission trip. (Photo provided by Robert Kirby)

Robert Kirby, a second-year student in UTHSC’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, comes from a family of nurses.

“The love and respect that I witnessed them have for their patients, played a huge part in my decision,” he said, describing why he chose nursing.

As the College of Nursing continues to grow, one of its core values is to promote diversity, attracting a diverse, qualified applicant pool that is reflected in the student population, and its graduates. Similar to certain races, males also are underrepresented in nursing. Increasing the male presence in nursing programs is another step toward the college’s goal of a diverse student population.

“National nursing trends show that patients are more receptive to health care providers of similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” said Wendy M. Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-Bc, FAANP, dean and professor in the UTHSC College of Nursing. “This may translate to men as well. With the current nursing shortage and projections demonstrating this trend will worsen, we cannot begin to fill the nursing gap without ensuring a diverse nursing pool to include men.”
Kirby believes in breaking stereotypes. “Having diversity in nursing opens new doors toward caring for our patients, and I strongly believe any nurse today would agree that having both men and women on their units is beneficial,” he said. “My favorite aspect of it is getting the opportunity to be with my patients all day and hear their stories. As nurses, we get to be a crucial part of their care and give a voice to them. That is enough to motivate me to provide the best care possible.”

According to national data gathered by Christopher Coleman, PhD, MS, MPH, FAAN, chair and professor of the Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in the UTHSC College of Nursing, men comprise roughly nine percent of registered nurses, and only five percent of nursing faculty teaching from the baccalaureate to the PhD.

For the UTHSC College of Nursing, however, success can be seen in the numbers. In addition to 14 percent of the college’s faculty being men, male nursing students currently represent up to 20 percent of their cohort in some programs and/or concentrations.

Kirby, who is president of the Student Nurses Association chapter at UTHSC and the social chair for the Nursing Student Government Association, said he had a simple reason for choosing UTHSC College of Nursing. “It felt right,” he said. “Additionally, the instructors were highly regarded as some of the best in the country. I can go into any of my instructor’s offices and connect with them. They want the best for their students, and it is evident in the way they instruct and care for each of us individually.”

After graduating in December, he plans to move to Columbia, South Carolina, to marry his fiancée, Emily, an aspiring physician assistant. He intends to return to school, and hopes to work in a pediatric intensive care unit as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), not only because he finds it rewarding, but also because a CRNA had a lasting impact on his life. “When I was younger, I needed two eye surgeries and the CRNA was that last little voice of hope before going under, and that has always stuck with me,” he said. “If I can be that voice for a frightened child, and relieve any stress for him or her, then that is what I want to do.”
Going forward, the college will continue its efforts to recruit and retain a diverse student body. “Campus support such as the Chancellor’s Diversity Scholarship, University Scholars Award, and the initiative to increase males of color on campus are also great resources,” said Jamie Overton, MAEd, director of Student Affairs in the College of Nursing. “It communicates a campuswide commitment to increasing and supporting a diverse student population.”