Statewide and nationally, male to female nurse ratio is still 10:1 but numbers have continued to rise since 1970.

While we celebrate National Nurses Week, it would be impossible to recognize all of the profession’s unsung heroes.  It takes a special soul to dedicate to nursing.  Historically,  it was one of the assumed career paths for women.  Secretaries, flight attendants, waitresses, and maids, along with nurses, were the usual path for young ladies entering the workforce.  During my time as an LPN student, the graduating class of 26 only hosted four males in the program.  The year was 1989, and the following ten years did not produce much of an advancement in male nursing numbers.  Even after military action in Kuwait in 1990, with many medical teams serving in the Middle East, locally, male nurses still numbered low in the female dominated nursing community.  

Men usually take on specific roles in nursing, being drawn to specialty fields that see a little more action.  Emergency rooms, prisons, helicopter crews, surgical rooms, and labs are where one notices them the most.  Luckily, these areas are usually in need of the security and comfort that men can provide.  Personally, working in nursing homes where there were one or two male nurses, to a staff of 30 females, was especially welcome.  Older ladies adored male nurses.  Strong backs come in handy working with the elderly.

Statewide and nationally, male to female nurse ratio is still 10:1 but numbers have continued to rise since 1970.   

These days, post middle east military conflicts have produced a new breed of male nurses.  They can be spotted in every area of a hospital, and it’s not hard to figure out that they have seen some battlefield time.  Expedient in their duties, courteous, patient, strong, and silent, they perform with a focused diligence. Some were combat medics.  They are shown a special respect from doctors..  Veteran male nurses are sometimes hard to differentiate from doctors due to the close working relationship. 

One such nurse that requires recognizing is Eldon High School 1988 graduate John McNeely.  He is an army veteran, and currently is employed with the University of Missouri Health Care System in Columbia.  In the Army, John received combat lifesaver training. 

Initially, McNeely was a Patriot missile technician. However, by the time Operation Desert Storm had arrived,  all of the medics had been deployed to front line infantry units. The unit he was in asked for volunteers to go through a combat lifesaver course, and McNeely volunteered.  Stationed in Germany at the time, they were the closest Patriot unit that could load up and deploy to Israel. During Desert Storm he worked with the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) to defend the city of Tel Aviv against Scud missile attacks. In addition to that, he spent the next 4 months being the unit's only medic while they were deployed. McNeely states “I found that I loved the job and the challenges, and decided to pursue that type of work as a career after I left the military.”

After his Army service, McNeely obtained his first civilian EMT license in 1992. He adds “I enjoyed my time on the ambulance and worked in different jobs to make ends meet (EMS doesn’t pay that much, surprisingly).  I eventually got my bachelors of science in nursing in 2003. I have worked in critical care nursing since then. Mostly in the ER, but I worked for the organ transplant department for five years. Working as a member of the organ recovery team we did the critical care management of organ donors, placement with waiting recipients, recovery and  transport of the organs.”  

Never losing his love for emergency nursing, he eventually came back to it. McNeely also never lost his love for the ambulance and took the training to become a paramedic. He now divides his time between working in  the ER,on  the ambulance, and teaching paramedic and critical care nursing classes. 

When asking McNeely about any occurrences in the emergency room that have made an impact on him, he shares that incidents involving children are always an emotional roller coaster.  He explains,  “One moment that sticks with me was when I had only been a nurse for about a year. It was a 5 year old that had been flown in from a trauma scene. Horrible injuries. Despite all of our best efforts the child died, and I was taking it very hard.  One of my mentors came up to me and could tell I was taking it hard. She said, "I need you to take 20 minutes. Go outside, walk down the street, walk around the hospital, go scream, go cry, go punch something.  Get this out of your system.  Then after that 20 minutes, I need you to come back into this ER, put on your gloves and go back to work.  I need you to go to work,  you need to go to work. The dead are going to still be there, and we have to take care of the living, and I need you to help take care of the living."  

Nurses see incidents like these everyday, requiring a mentality and stamina that is unthinkable, while still retaining empathy.  It’s hard not to harden one’s heart to deal with this job.  

McNeely explains it well. “There are rules you learn in working in the ER.  Rule #1: some people are going to die. Rule #2: there's nothing you can do about rule # 1.  I never forgot about that mentor telling me that I had to go back to work; get back up on that horse, so to speak.  There are good days, and there are bad days, but I keep coming back.  Some people ask how can you do that? What is my why? Because someone has to.  After 16 years as a nurse, and another 10 years as an EMT/Paramedic I feel that I get to touch people's lives. There's enough things that are broken in the world, and some days I get a chance to put things back together. That's the why.”