Despite being recognized as one of the best and most in-demand careers, nationwide, men comprise just 9.4% of the nursing workforce. The faculty and students leading the RUSH Men in Nursing organization are working to grow that number and expand interest in the profession.
We spoke with Aaron D. Franklin, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, faculty advisor for the Men in Nursing organization, and Minh Phung, student president of the Men in Nursing program about their paths to nursing, how they came to RUSH and why they feel passionately about the need to grow men’s representation in nursing.
Tell us about your background.
Franklin: In 2013, I earned a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. After graduating, I moved to Chicago, where I was hired as a staff registered nurse in the orthopedic unit at RUSH. I decided to go further and earned a Master of Science: Clinical Nurse Leader in 2019 and a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP): Systems Leadership in 2021 from RUSH. My DNP focused on the recruitment and retention of men in nursing into RU.
Phung: I am originally from Saint Paul, Minnesota. I was born and raised there with my loving parents and two sisters. My family is Vietnamese, and I can hold a conversation decently well in Vietnamese with my terrible accent. I am making it my life goal to learn how to speak five languages fluently: English, French, Spanish, Vietnamese and ASL (American Sign Language).
What drew you to nursing?
Franklin: From volunteering at hospitals at the age of 15 to gaining my first job as a certified nurse’s assistant my senior year in high school, I knew that nursing was for me. The opportunity to connect with and support people in their most vulnerable moments in life and be a part of the caregiver team nursing them to health proved that I was in the right space.
Phung: I always knew that I wanted to be in the healthcare field, but I was not sure which profession would suit me. I took the time to explore and volunteer at my local hospital to see which path was right for me. I explored physical therapy and physician assistant programs before I settled on nursing. I worked alongside ER nurses for two years, and I was amazed at how brilliant, talented and skilled these nurses were. I felt so inspired and driven by them that I decided to pursue nursing as my career.
What made you choose to come to RUSH?
Franklin: I moved to Chicago the week I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. RUSH was mentioned to me by one of my college professors as a top hospital in Chicago. I was interviewed by a black male nurse, Fred Brown, DNP, RN, CENP, who I immediately identified with, and it made my option to begin a career in nursing at RUSH that much more desirable.
Phung: There were several reasons why I chose to attend RUSH for my nursing education. RUSH was one of the top universities in the Midwest that offered direct, entry-level nursing for non-nursing degree holders like me. RUSH is also ranked top 10 in this nation and is regarded as a highly reputable and respectful institution. Because RUSH is in Chicago, I was not terribly far from home in St. Paul, so seeing as I could easily come back home to visit my family, it made sense for me to apply to RUSH.
There was a video that I saw on the website that showed Men in Nursing and explained why men should become nurses. After watching that video, I knew that RUSH was open to diversity, equity and inclusion to everyone.
How did you find out about the Men in Nursing program at RUSH?
Franklin: Men in Nursing at RUSH was developed as an outcome of my DNP in Systems Leadership project. My DNP project focused on developing a student organization for men in nursing (all genders invited to participate), a mentorship component for African American nursing students, like myself, and a faculty development course focused on the past, present and future implications for the recruitment and retention of men in nursing. My goal is to extend the program to all nursing programs in the College of Nursing, the medical center and eventually across RUSH.
Phung: I first heard about Men in Nursing on the RUSH website, but I first talked about it with Dr. Brown. He is one of the faculty advisors for the student organization Men in Nursing. I met him for the first time during Term 1 of the GEM program. He told me more about this student organization and told me there was going to be a meeting held in May. I was immediately interested in joining and looked forward to meeting other male nursing students in the GEM program.
What did you experience in your professional life that made you interested in becoming involved in the Men in Nursing program?
Franklin: I have known since childhood that my aspiration was within the profession of nursing. During classes in high school and college, I was always the only male. In my personal life, school and practice, I experience many stigmas regarding men in nursing. My creation of Men in Nursing has been an initiative to pave a road to make it much simpler for others like me.
What do you see yourself doing after you graduate?
Phung: After graduating from the GEM program, I see myself heading back home to Minnesota and taking my nursing career into emergency medicine and critical care. There is something about that specialty that I find myself drawn to naturally. I am hoping that after gaining the necessary experience in the ED and ICU that I will be able to take my nursing career to the next level as a flight nurse. I also see myself somewhere in a nursing leadership role later in my career.
RUSH College of Nursing’s inaugural dean, Luther Christman, founded the Men in Nursing Program more than 50 years ago. What changes to nursing and healthcare do you hope to see in the next 50 years?
Franklin: I would like to see more pipeline programs created to help more men from minority groups join the profession of nursing. Access and the means to complete nursing school is a barrier that minorities often are faced with.
Phung: Luther Christman laid the foundation for the Men in Nursing to be successful and to have the same opportunities as their counterparts. Without Luther Christman, the progress that men in nursing have made so far would not be where it is at today. One big change that I hope to see in nursing in the next 50 years is the increase of men becoming nurses in all specialties. I also hope to see men and women in the nursing profession paid equally for the work that they do. And, I hope that the stigma of men working as nurses will one day be a thing of the past once there are more men in the nursing profession.
How does healthcare benefit from increasing the voice of men in the nursing profession?
Franklin: With of a total of 4.2 million registered nurses and counting, nursing continues to represent the nation’s largest healthcare profession with only 9.4% representing those who identify as male. As baby boomers age, the extension of life expectancies and the nation’s challenges with health crises like COVID-19, the workforce will continue to see a desperate need for registered nurses. The recruitment of a diverse workforce of men in the nursing profession will help remedy the nursing shortage the nation has already begun to experience and improve health outcomes from the many patients who would benefit from their care.
Phung: Health care benefits from the increase of men in the nursing profession by helping address the national nurse shortage that has been an ongoing problem in this country. By having universities, nursing schools and hospitals giving men the opportunity to become nurses, this will tremendously benefit everyone as this will help bolster the number of nurses and address shortages, reduce the high burnout rates that nurses naturally experience in the profession and increase the retention rate of male nurses as more and more men enter into the profession.
How can others get involved with the Men in Nursing program?
Franklin: We invite anyone to reach out to the men in nursing email firstname.lastname@example.org, get on our email distribution list and become involved in the various events we are a part of. Strategies to make Men in Nursing a space for all programs in the college, the medical center and across RUSH are in the works, and we would need much support from students, nurses, administrators and the community to elevate this cause to the platform it needs to be on.