While some male nurses deal with common misconceptions about working in a predominantly female-staffed environment, John Barfield dealt with a bigger obstacle: the civil rights movement fighting against Jim Crow laws.
“Diploma programs would not take us,” said Barfield, an African-American nurse of 42 years. “There was only one school in the area, and that was Alexian Brothers. Once civil rights stuff came along and the two-year program came along, the mandate came.”
He now holds several degrees, including two master’s in Nursing of Health Systems and Nursing Administration from the University of San Diego and a master’s in Social Work from the University of Illinois in Chicago. His bachelor’s degree in Sociology is from DePaul University.
“Males were to be accepted equally, but clearly it was a female profession up until the middle ’60s,” said Barfield. “To get into school for males and to be a male of color was kind of difficult. The civil rights movement came along and opened the door for the nursing program. When I went to nursing school, I had to sign a statement that I would not picket or riot or do any civil rights stuff to get in school. I signed it.”
Barfield has since worked with a variety of people, including 22 years as a health care worker for San Diego’s correctional facilities. He’s cared for everyone from HIV/AIDS patients to Somalian refugees. But after his mother passed away, he returned to Illinois and now teaches nursing for the City Colleges of Chicago at Richard J. Daley.
He’s observed a gradual increase in male nurses, specifically within the Hispanic and African communities.
“We’re still less than 10 percent of the nursing force,” said Barfield. “But men are becoming more attracted to the profession. Males are coming out of the military, especially the navy. There are corpsmen taking care of soldiers over the battlefield. They’re becoming registered nurses.”
But Barfield’s main concern is not gender. It’s whether people are becoming nurses for the love of caring for people as opposed to just a steady-paying job.
“You’ve got to like caring for life and preserving life. Being a nurse means you’re dealing with a lot of death. It’s not just cleaning, washing backs or passing pills. You see [patients] from day one to 100. Anyone can pass a pill, but do you give that person a sense that they are a valuable individual?”
Shamontiel L. Vaughn is a professional journalist who has work featured in AXS, Yahoo!, Chicago Defender and Chicago Tribune. She’s been an Examiner since 2009 and currently writes about 10 categories on Examiner.com.