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Finding a Few Good Men

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Searching for nurses in a well-tapped pool of traditional applicants can be a frustrating exercise for hospitals facing nursing shortages. So Desert Regional Medical Center decided to cast its line in a smaller pond.

Looking beyond the image of the white-capped, female nurse, the 260-staffed-bed acute-care center in Palm Springs, CA, has aimed its latest recruitment at men. “We ran some statistics and found that 6 percent to 8 percent of nurses in the U.S. are men,” says Henry Hudson, director of human resources. “While everyone else is going after the other 92 percent of the nursing population, we’re entering a market that is untapped.”

Earlier this year, Desert Regional began a recruitment campaign that used print advertisements and billboards to entice men to join the hospital’s nursing work force. Featuring colorful California license plates with messages like “Mr. RN” or “RN Dude,” the advertisements ran during March and April—two of the city’s busiest months for tourists, says Hudson. The billboards were placed on the city’s major interstate to make sure they had maximum exposure during the tourist season. “We knew they weren’t coming here to apply for positions,” says Hudson. “They were coming here to vacation. But why not work where most people vacation?”

The advertisements, combined with the hospital’s recruitment efforts at colleges, are beginning to see results. Desert Regional already has a high percentage of male nurses on staff—just more than 15 percent—and Hudson says those numbers are growing.

Although Desert Regional’s recruitment focus is atypical, targeting men for nursing positions is not a new practice among organizations looking to bolster their nursing staffs any way they can. An Oregon Center for Nursing advertising campaign, for example, poses a unique challenge to potential nurses: “Are You Man Enough?”

The advertisements, featuring actual Oregon nurses dressed in outfits they wear when pursuing their hobbies, aim to break the stereotype that nursing isn’t a job for the “manly man.” One nurse holds his snowboard; another appears ready to hit the rugby field. Still another wears his black belt in Kenpo karate. The ad reads, “If you want a career that demands intelligence, courage, and skill, and offers unlimited opportunity, consider nursing.”

Kristine Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Center for Nursing, says the advertisements were originally created in 2002 for school-age boys, hoping to spur early interest in the profession. But the campaign’s reach soon extended beyond the classroom. The ads have been featured on the side of buses, at movie theaters, and in newspapers and magazines nationwide.

The percentage of men in Oregon’s nursing work force has risen steadily since “Are You Man Enough?” was launched; at almost 14 percent, it’s one of the highest in the country. Deborah Burton, who was executive director of the Oregon Center for Nursing when the campaign was created, now serves as regional director for nursing education and performance for the Oregon Region of Providence Health System. To develop its nursing work force, the hospital system began the Providence Scholar program, in which candidates promise three years of employment to the hospital system in exchange for tuition assistance to the University of Portland’s nursing program. Both males and females are accepted into the program, which launched in 2003, but the number of men grows each year. In 2007, men represent 11 percent of the 402 scholars in the program, Burton says.

“We’ve done so much work in our state to repackage the image of nursing,” says Burton. “But we need to work even harder to showcase the diversity of our work force.”

—Maureen Larkin