In the movie Meet the Parents, Ben Stiller plays the role of Greg Focker, a male nurse who spends a weekend with the ultraconservative family of his fiance.
At the breakfast table, when he's asked what kind of work he does, he replies, "nursing." The men at the table break out in incredulous laughter. Ridiculed for choosing to be a nurse, Focker is asked if it was because his marks weren't good enough to get into medical school. Not the case. He simply likes the fact he could branch off to various types of medicine as a nurse and focus on patient care.
Dave Steindl can certainly identify with that.
He's a nurse for the same reasons.
The Focker saga is not the first time Hollywood has featured a male nurse and Steindl, a nursing instructor at the College of New Caledonia, is well-aware of the stereotypes tied to his profession. Growing up in the 70s, he was a big fan of the TV series M*A*S*H and loved Jamie Farr's portrayal of Corporal Klinger, a nurse who dressed in women's clothing and wore makeup in hopes the military authorities would declare him unfit for duty in the Korean war zone.
At the time, Steindl was a radar technician in the air force but he was a people person and found out he hated engineering. When he finally he decided it was time to change his job he didn't have to look far for advice.
"My mother was a nurse, but I always wanted to be a tradesman," said Steindl.
"Nursing wasn't my career plan at all, but I always liked health and kept in shape. It was literally just something to do."
Steindl enrolled in the nursing diploma program at CNC in 1991 and five years later left UNBC with a degree, one of only five males in a graduating class of about 50. Being surrounded by women in his class and during study times was certainly no problem for Steindl.
"My first wife was a nurse and my second one, too," laughed Steindl, a public health nurse in addictions and youth treatment who worked as a surgical nurse before he earned his masters degree to become s teacher.
"It's a great profession, there's so much mobility. If you don't like your job this week you can go find a new one. There aren't many careers that offer that type of flexibility. The opportunities are endless."
For some, nursing is a stepping stone to medical school. Prince George urologist Guy Paterson spent five years in Edmonton as a home-care nurse, while child psychologist Rachel Bolding and family physician Denise McLeod are both former nurses. Steidl knows of at least a couple of his nursing students who have entered the Northern Medical Program at UNBC.
"If you ask any of the nursing staff at the hospital about Dr. Paterson, you won't hear a bad word about him," said Steindl. "He has the bedside manner and he doesn't see himself as superior. He was a nurse and he knows exactly what we do because he did it and he respects it.
"Most of the doctors who are married to nurses are fantastic because their wives would kick their asses if they didn't treat nurses well."
CNC admits 96 students each year to its bachelor of nursing program. About 10 per cent are males, close to the national average. The CNC-UNBC collaboration started in the fall of 1996, when there were only 18 seats available in the program, but additional provincial funding has increased class sizes substantially. In 2011, 11 of the 120 third-year students and 15 of the 124 fourth-years were male.
"We get between seven and 10 males a year, and a lot of people are changing careers," said Steindl. "Last year we had a plumber come through, and a few years before that we had a mechanic who was done with pulling wrenches, and now he's a nurse."
The gender mix comes into play when teaching, according to Steindl.
"Working with predominantly female cast has its challenges. There's not the same communications as a group of men working together, and the women will admit to that. They do quite like having men on the floor. It changes the dynamic.
"I've heard from female nurses who say [doctors will allow male nurses] to get away with stuff that they can't. I have seen male doctors tear living strips off female nurses about one of my patients and then walk right by me without saying anything to me. That's chicken poop, but you don't have many doctors like that. Most guys don't start screaming at other guys because you don't know what that guy is going to do to you."
Steindl said men tend to gravitate to the adrenaline side of nursing, either emergency or the intensive care unit. His wife, an emergency room nurse, said there are times when she's the only ER nurse among several male nurses working her shift.
The idea that nursing is a job for women started in the 1850s when English nurse Florence Nightingale laid the groundwork of the profession, saving the lives of soldiers fighting in the Crimean War. In the early 1900s, nursing schools for men were still common in North America, until men started realizing they could make better money in other professions.
"The stigma about men in nursing and the whole gay thing has always been around, but you don't get jokes about it," said Steindl. "You don't ever feel that stigma and even with the patients we're working with I never felt anybody was put off by a male nurse.
"When I first went into it, I I was living with three foresters and I used to work out in the bush myself. They were all mocking me about the nursing thing, until I took them to one of the nursing dances. Then, all you had to say was 'how many women are there in forestry?"