CHENNAI: It’s 5.30 pm on a mundane Thursday. The Intensive Care Unit at Southern Railway Headquarters Hospital in Ayanavram smells of medicines. The patient monitor is beeping incessantly. Stanly Jones, chief nursing superintendent from the department, is busy round-the-clock, attending to patients and taking notes of their progress to show the concerned doctors. He’s on an evening shift for the week. Stanly takes some time off his schedule to talk to CE about being a male nurse and challenges in climbing the career and social ladder.
The he-man label
“Are you surprised by the number of male nurses in the ward? It has improved. We talk about sexism in all professions but nursing. When I joined this hospital, there were only two of us and now 60 out of the 250 functioning nurse staff are male. The initial days were a struggle. I was asked to collect a blood sample from a patient and she refused to identify me as a nurse. Only after calling up the management, she believed. We’ve gone past that stage of feeling unwelcome,” says Stanly, dressed in a crisp white pant and shirt. A maroon apron has to be worn while performing duties inside the ICU.
Stanly grew up in a time when nursing was considered strictly a female-dominated profession. After schooling, in 1984, he went on to pursue a three-year diploma in nursing at Scudder Memorial Hospital and School of Nursing in Ranipet. He worked at Scudder Memorial Hospital for two years and later moved to BM Birla Heart Research Centre, Kolkata, where he worked for three years in the cardiology department. At the age of 24, he assisted a cardiomyoplasty surgery that happened for the first time in South Asia at Kolkata Birla Hospital in the 90s.
Despite getting a better pay, he moved to Southern Railway Headquarters Hospital in Ayanavaram in 1992 due to family commitments. He has completed 27 years of service and still continues to work there. “I wanted to become a doctor but I couldn’t. My mother suggested I take up this profession since a few of my cousins were in this field already. I feel blessed about the decision and there’s no looking back. Until 1984, only three colleges and hospitals took in male nurses.
From 1989, missions and private hospitals started accepting male nurses. Several nursing institutes have come up in recent times. Men are seeing it as a lucrative career option and that’s a step forward,” shares Stanly who ranked first in south India in the Christian Medical Association of India for Nursing Exam in 1987.
Make way for men
Although the nurturing aspects of nursing may be seen as traditionally feminine, Stanly has seen the perception change. Male nurses excel in areas like an emergency ward, ICU and operation theatre duty.
“The profession expanded after men came into it. Now there are men pursuing midwifery courses while that was not the case a decade ago... we were even restricted inside the obstetric department,” says the 52-year-old, who is the first from Tamil Nadu to win the 2015 Florence Nightingale Award instituted by Tamil Nadu Nursing Midwife Council.
Caring without expectations
Keeping gender barriers aside, the larger picture of the nursing profession still seems to be unorganised and under-appreciated. Poor salary, short-staffed, bonds and agreements, and occupational hazards. Multiple issues seem to plague the profession.
“It’s usually the nurse who is more prone to get affected when there’s a disease outbreak. The shift timings are exhausting and pressure-filled Private hospitals tend to keep the original documents and certificates to themselves and hold nurses on a contract basis. As a result of which it becomes difficult to switch workplaces. Nobody addresses the stress nurses go through daily. We too experience fatigue because of the monotony of the job and deteriorating condition of patients. They’re held accountable for any situation at the hospital,” says Stanly.
Work is worship
Nursing is often known as a noble, and selfless profession in the health sector. Stanly respects his duties, the responsibilities that come along with it, and the satisfaction of saving lives.“Patients remember us and express their gratitude after treatment. We enjoy the privilege of being addressed as a brother or sister and thereby becoming a part of their families. If we’re open to learning from fellow mates without seeing seniority then the profession can grow leaps. Men need to be given a chance to prove their calibre. It’s a nurse who opens the eyes of a newborn and also closes the eyes of the dead. We need to recognise their efforts,” shares Stanly with pride and hope.