Modern Nurses: Audio/Video Girl

Digital Microscope ink on paper 2016 by Julianna Paradisi

Digital Microscope ink on paper 2016 by Julianna Paradisi

Preparing materials for tumor conferences is part of my role as an oncology nurse navigator. It involves, among other responsibilities, reviewing the cases, printing copies of the agenda for the attendees, managing the sign-in rosters, and providing updated lists of available clinical trials. It also requires powering on the projector, the screen, and setting up the digital microscope necessary for the pathologist and radiologist to project slides of the tumor cells, and the MRI or Cat can images on the large screen for discussion.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I’ve become Audio/Video Girl. Other nurses of my generation will appreciate the humor in this.

Does any one remember watching film strips and movies in grade school classrooms? Did your hand shoot up when the teacher asked for volunteers to set up and run the projector? Mine did, but it was always a boy who was chosen. Eventually, I stopped raising my hand.

Years later when I became a pediatric intensive care nurse, I discovered an aptitude for tubes and wires, or rather I learned to get one fast. The ability to troubleshoot a ventilator until a respiratory therapist could fix it became handy too. I realized the level of skill I’d developed when as a single mom I set up my stereo system (you who grew up with bluetooth streaming have no idea how easy you have it), and a desk top computer with printer/fax using a dial-up modem. In case you are to young to know, we could not use our computers and phones at the time in those days.

I digress.

Learning to set up the electronic equipment for tumor conference was a lot like how I learned almost everything as a nurse: someone showed me how to do it once, and then I was on my own. However, as mentioned, I have developed an aptitude for technology: during the demonstration I snapped pictures of the wire connections with my phone, creating a visual reference guide to use later.

I was anxious the first time I set up by myself. While lifting the digital microscope which I imagine costs a hefty portion of my annual salary from its cart to the conference table, I distracted myself from my fear of dropping it by imagining twenty doctors staring at me because it didn’t work. Tumor conference would be a disaster if I failed..

The microscope and projector worked. Relieved, I glanced at the doctors, men and women, seated around the table. Some of the male faces resembled grown up versions of the boys in grade school my teachers chose to run the projectors. Some of them probably drive cars electronically more complex than the audio video equipment I had just set up.

To be clear, I am treated respectfully as part of the multidisciplinary team at tumor conference. I’m proud to be part of this valuable service offered to our patients. I am happy with my life choices. However, I wonder what might be different if girls were chosen equally with boys to run the projectors when I was young?





Nurse is Not Gender Specific

Nursing has a media identity problem, and it extends to men in nursing. For every sexy nurse Halloween costume, there is a patient refusing care from a nurse who is also a man. For every nurse-bitch portrayal, there is a gay male nurse joke.

Don't Call Me Murse by jparadisi

Don’t Call Me Murse by jparadisi

Occasionally, I read comments saying something like, “It’s about time men are exposed to what women have to endure in the workplace: less respect, lower pay, fewer promotions.” Women experience these inequities, but punishing another group instead is not the way to promote equality in the workplace.

According to a report published by the WSJ, the number of men in nursing has tripled since 1970 to nearly 10 percent. Men choose nursing for the same reasons women do: job stability, flexible hours, skill variety, and opportunity for promotion. Interestingly, according to the same report, men in nursing earn more money than women in nursing. This is not attributed to gender bias, but instead to choices: Men are less likely to enter nursing as LPNs, more likely to enter nursing at the BSN level or higher, and more likely to become “nurse anesthetists (41 percent), who earn nearly $148,000 on average, but only 8 percent of licensed practical nurses, who make just $35,000.” Men are also more likely to work full time than their female counterparts.

Still, men in nursing report problems of gender bias within our profession. A few common complaints are:

  • The persistent myth that men are less caring than women. The statement is rather a paradox considering the volume of information about bullying among nurses.
  • Many men complain that they endure more scrutiny and criticism of their nursing skills than their female counterparts.
  • The existence of tenacious stereotypes, which belittle all nurses.
  • Don’t call me a “male nurse” or “murse.” Like firefighter, soldier, pilot, and physician, the title nurse is only gender specific from a gender-biased perspective.

Why wouldn’t a person of any gender not want to work in a profession combing the education, technical skills, and personal interaction found in nursing? Add in nursing’s flexible hours, stable employment, and its identity as the most trusted profession? It is a disservice to discourage anyone with what it takes from entering our ranks.

So the next time your child’s elementary school teacher invites you to Career Day, if you are a woman, bring along one of your male colleagues, and begin changing the image of nurses for the children we are raising.

And a word to the guys: If you’re the new nurse in a unit of women, please leave the seat down in the staff restroom. This can make or break your relationship with colleagues.

Will we ever reach a point in the nursing profession where stereotyping no longer exists? What experiences or suggestions would you share?

Polymaths, Multitasking, and Renaissance Men (and Women)

On weekends, the clinic where I work closes when all of our patients are discharged. Sometimes we work a full eight-hour shift, but today, it means that we closed shop around lunchtime. This gift of a weekend afternoon causes mild distress, however, because I have to decide whether to spend it plinking out a new post for this blog, or playing hooky. Getting home without window shopping, and staying home instead of going for a run along the river doesn’t solve the problem. Once home, I avoid picking up one of the three books I’m reading, or the magazine articles next to my favorite chair, or the knitting project and completing “just a few rows”, until suddenly all the free time has evaporated.

Sergei. jparadisi

Today, I am writing about polymaths, multitasking, and Renaissance men (and women).

My daughter gave me the book A Left-Handed History of the World, by Ed Wright, because I am left-handed. It contains chapter-length biographies of left-handed people who shaped world history. It was published in 2007, so President Barack Obama isn’t included, but I’d look for him in future editions. Interestingly, of the twenty-nine biographies, only four are of women: Joan of Arc, Queen Victoria, Marie Curie, and Martina Navratilova, who shares her chapter with John McEnroe. Hmmmmmm. I’ll save that thought for another post.

Anyway, I read the chapters about the lefties Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo, because I wanted to understand the differences between a polymath, multitasking, and a Renaissance man (woman). Leonardo, according to Wright, was a polymath (a person of wide ranging knowledge and learning), but not very good at multitasking. According to Ed Wright, “His (DaVinci’s) low completion rate demonstrates the risks of divergent thinking. It’s unlikely that he completed more than 20 paintings in a 46-year career-in a way he had too much genius for one person to be able to effectively manage.” Maybe, but those 20 paintings are masterpieces Ed. And don’t forget about the wooden parachute that works, and the helicopter.

Michelangelo was more disciplined, able to multitask (simultaneous execution of more than one program or task by a single computer processor) and complete the work to which he commissioned himself. However, his drive and perfectionism came with a price. Wright says,

“Whereas Leonardo was known as a genial man, prone to procrastination and getting sidetracked, Michelangelo soon developed a reputation for a terrifying, obsessive perfectionism…The Florentines referred to his terribilitas, meaning ‘fearsome willpower’.”

I’m not well educated enough to claim to be a polymath. While I can multitask, I am happy to report that I am a nurse, and not a computer processor, which is a machine. The definition of Renaissance man is “a person with many talents or interests, esp. in the humanities,” and that is a description I will own.

I don’t believe in a balanced life.  A well-lived life is a dynamic organism, constantly changing. I live life as if it’s a juggling act, and as I’ve said before, the trick is knowing which balls in the air make you happy, and which ones make you frantic.

So, today I’m going to write for an hour or so. Then I’m going to read that article on feminism I’ve meant to get at all week. Afterward, I’ll pour something cold to drink and sit on the deck for what’s left of this beautiful afternoon, waiting for David to get home from work. Poor guy, he had to work his entire shift today.

What? U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Looks Like Nurses?

The Christening Gown. mixed media by jparadisi

This morning fellow nurse blogger Joni Watson at Nursetopia urges our friends here in Oregon, Nike, to make scrubs for nurses. I like the idea, considering the physical nature of our jobs, which requires both strength and endurance. What really caught my attention, however, was the link she included to an article criticizing the U.S. Women’s Soccer team for looking like nurses in their white uniforms at the World Games. I can’t help but to track back to my recent post The Color White and the series of paintings I made From Cradle to Grave: The Color White.

The White That Binds (Pinning Ceremony) mixed media by jparadisi (sold).

The Color White

From Cradle to Grave: The Color White (water color and ink on paper) by jparadisi

This post was originally written as the artist’s statement for my series of paintings From Cradle to Grave: The Color White.

From Cradle to Grave: The Color White

     When some hospitals, in the name of customer service, decided nurses would again wear white, I began thinking about the symbolism of white clothing in western European culture. Patients complain it is difficult to tell nurses apart from other hospital staff. Interestingly, color-coding nurses was chosen as a solution, rather than promoting the professional identity of this primarily female occupation.

The burden of the color white for women of western culture is laden with moral innuendo.  For nurses, it conjures images of Nurse Ratched, Hot Lips Houlihan, and Jenny Fields, the nurse/mother in John Irving’s novel, The World According to Garp. It is paradoxical that when women wear white it represents virginal purity, yet evokes sexual fantasy, fear, or both.

From Cradle to Grave: The Color White depicts the rituals for which I’ve worn white. Baptism, First Communion, two weddings, and the iconic white nurse uniform of the “pinning ceremony,” marking the completion of nurses training.

I considered rituals or occupations requiring men to wear white clothing:

  • Baptism
  • House painters
  • Chefs
  • Meat packers
  • Ice cream vendors
  • Medical professionals
  • Colonel Sanders
  • The Navy
  • The Pope

The robes of the Ku Klux Klan take the color white to its sinister extreme.

The color white comes with expectations for women who wear it: only the pure and virginal, never before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.

Color Coded for Easy Identification

The White that Binds (Pinning Ceremony) jparadisi 2010

On my other blog, Die Krankenschwester, I explore issues of gender, role, and identity through nursing imagery.  J Doe at Those Emergency Blues wrote an excellent post this morning about titles and power.  Her post runs corollary to the idea of color used as a label of identity in my series of paintings From Cradle to Grave: The Color White. In The Color White series, I question the links between the color white, femininity, purity, and nursing.

In her book Color, author Victoria Finlay (2002 Ballantine Books) discusses the historical association of the color purple with royalty.  If some physicians insist they are the only ones who may use the title Doctor in the medical setting, then perhaps they should be required to wear the color purple in hospitals, which was traditionally only allowed to royalty in ancient times. That way, patients will know at a glance who their doctor is, because name badges and an introduction may not be enough.

I’m just sayin…