Male nurses move beyond stereotypes
Even in the midst of the counter-cultural 1960s, those who encouraged
Mervin Helmuth in his vocational path must have known he was something
of a pioneer. When Helmuth entered nursing school after completing
a term in alternative service to the military draft, he was a very
unlikely student: a person of Amish background pursuing education
and training outside typical community expectations, and the first
male to be accepted into a nursing program in the city of Fort Wayne,
Helmuth had been asked by the director of nursing in the tuberculosis
hospital where he fulfilled 1-W service whether he thought about
continuing in nursing; he told her that he did not finish high school.
After completing his assignment at the hospital, he stayed on an
extra year, and completed requirements, including a GED, to allow
him to get his foot in the door at a nursing school.
Even after local publicity died down over his entrance to the School
of Nursing at Parkview-Methodist Hospital he faced unique challenges.
Without a formal high school education, he hadn’t developed
consistent study habits. He also had to take a chemistry course,
and arrange for different housing than his female counterparts.
His family, however, was accepting; nursing, like school teaching,
was viewed as “a legitimate reason to go on to school,”
In 1966, when Helmuth graduated second in a class of 75 and received
his diploma in nursing, men represented less than one percent of
the professional nursing population nationwide. In the decades since,
the number of men who have chosen to enter the field has risen to
5.4 percent; of Goshen College’s 1,627 B.S.N. graduates to
date, 68 male nursing graduates nearly reflect the national trend.
Helmuth worked at Parkview Hospital as a nurse, but then decided
to enroll at Goshen to earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing.
He wasn’t the first male nursing student in GC’s program,
but nursing professor Orpah Mosemann, with exceptional vision for
the future of the program, asked Helmuth whether he would be interested
in earning a master’s degree in order to teach at the college
“Orpah saw men coming into the program, and wanted to encourage
more to enter nursing, and felt they needed male role models in
order to see men functioning in nursing,” said Helmuth. “I
give her credit – she was the wisdom behind the nursing program,
and she was a mentor for many people.”
Helmuth went on to earn a master’s degree at the University
of Florida (Gainesville) and returned to Goshen to join the teaching
The reasons men are now choosing to go into the nursing profession
are similar to those cited by women who go into the field: an interest
in caring for sick individuals and promoting wellness, providing
a needed service, relating closely to patients and families, endless
opportunities for specialization and job variation. Nurses are also
in demand, providing options and stability for graduates.
“Economics and gender and cultural biases are [some] of the
reasons that men have not come into nursing, but recently there
has been more interest. And there are more males from other countries
who are starting to look at nursing, and I find they don’t
have the same hang-ups about men being nurses – largely centered
around the stereotype of nurses being female,” said Helmuth.
“Many of our male nursing students are also older than traditional-aged
college students. It’s not very kosher yet for male high school
seniors to tell people ‘I want to be a nurse,’ so consequently,
even today, they don’t come to us straight from high school.
They need to understand themselves a little better to go into a
highly female profession. Then they are successful.”
GC senior Jared Beasley completed an undergraduate degree in economics
at another college before he realized, in part through experiences
during training for and working as a technician in a hospital emergency
room, that he wanted to pursue a vocation in nursing. His decision
to go back to school to earn a B.S.N. was due in part to a “cost-benefit
analysis” and also because “there is a lot about nursing
that is wonderful. Stability: there’s a lot of job security
in nursing. Opportunities are almost endless in this field …
I did research and talked to people, and you can go anywhere with
this degree: administration, hundreds of different clinical fields,
home health, public health, school nursing. The pay is good, the
benefits are good. I have never been so absolutely sure about a
career move before.”
There are some areas where men may face discrimination during their
education, Helmuth said; some nursing programs do not allow men
to go on to an obstetrics unit, for example, for clinical experience
after they’ve done the same preparatory coursework.
While women were most influential in Helmuth’s life as he
chose his profession, he sees male nurses as providing excellent
role models for young men whose gifts and interests would suggest
a call to nursing.
“The reasons men and women come into nursing are probably
very similar. If people have this kind of desire to be able to help
someone get well, or give them information that will help patients
keep themselves well, then nursing is a good choice,” said
Helmuth. “I find men to be just as caring as females. They
just need to continue to overcome stereotypes and to know their
Helmuth, center, teaches students in the clinical settings
as classroom. Helmuth was instrumental in establishing teh annual
student-run mock convention, helping future nurses engage in
professional development and leadership.