Mike Ward, nurse practitioner and American Association of Men in Nursing (AAMN) vice president, shares his passion for the field, his connection to Alzheimer’s disease, and the need for quality care for the aging population.
Mike, how did you become interested in nursing?
My paternal grandfather, Dr. John Ward was a physician, and I always wanted to be a doctor. I intended to go into the Air Force to help pay for medical school, not realizing that the back surgery I had at age 16 would prevent me from being accepted. There were a lot of roadblocks. I thought: ‘What if I don't get into medical school?’ I decided to major in nursing, and here we are! It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I never felt like I was an outsider as a male in the field. When I began my clinicals, it became clear that this was the right path. For all the reasons I thought I wanted to be a doctor, I found those answers in nursing. From interacting with patients to the satisfaction of being able to help someone at their greatest time of need, along with all the avenues you can follow through nursing, I knew this was the career for me.
Tell us about your involvement with the American Association of Men in Nursing (AAMN).
While writing my own nursing blog, I interviewed pediatric nurse practitioner Dr. Bill Lecher, former president of AAMN. Once I learned more about the organization’s commitment to shape the practice, education, research and leadership for men in nursing, I immediately joined.
Dr. Lecher introduced me to Blake Smith, then the youngest incoming president of the AAMN, and the youngest president of any national nursing group. Blake asked if I wanted to get involved in the strategic plan for the organization, and as we worked together, I realized that we needed to engage more with our membership, so we started a video series and podcast. I found myself running a variety of communications for AAMN, and I have now been vice president of the group for four years.
In nursing, there are a lot of things you can do in the field and a lot of AAMN members doing those things, whether they are academics or researchers. It is my belief that you should always be growing, and I am inspired every day.
Do you have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease?
My step grandfather lived with Alzheimer's disease, a 6’4 powerhouse of a man who made wooden palettes for a living. As he slowly started losing his facilities, it was difficult to watch.
I learned that you cannot do it alone, and as a nurse, I know that it takes a village to care for a loved one. As the aging population becomes more and more in need of quality care, we need everyone to get involved.
I am dedicated to this career on behalf of my own family, the families I care for, and my children, who I want to grow up in a world without Alzheimer’s.
Tell us about the importance of male nurses and nurses overall at this time.
Due to pandemic burnout, more nurses are needed overall. As people move into the baby boomer population, more people are in need of care — and more skilled nurses are retiring. When you factor in burn-out, we don’t have enough nurses and nurse educators on staff.
No one ever told me to consider nursing as a worthwhile pursuit, and yet I have found that male nurses have a ton of untapped potential. More men need to be exposed to the possibility that nursing can be a great career. There are home health nurses, hospice nurses, flight nurses, EMS nurses and critical care nurses. Nurses work at Disney World! There are tons of opportunities depending on what you are interested in, including travel nursing. From critical care and trauma services to leadership opportunities, the list only goes on.
Some people may think that men can’t care, an old ideology. Men can be incredibly nurturing; they often just care in a different way than women do. It's why men and women work together so well as nurses, because we each bring our individuality, skill sets and personalities to the workplace.
This new generation is not reluctant to pursue this career. I see more male nurses going into labor and delivery, men who love holding neonatal babies. Roles like this will only continue to expand! And being involved with an organization like AAMN will open doors and help you expand your mind.
What have the past few years as a nurse during a pandemic looked like?
Nurses at bedsides every day had a difficult time. We saw people dying at least a few times a shift. There are nurses who have PTSD based on what they experienced throughout the pandemic. I recall one 12-hour shift when I admitted 22 people from the E.R. Each person received a full head-to-toe assessment. During this time, I was the only provider in the entire hospital. Every patient was my patient. At this time, I was also working part-time at a freestanding E.R. where I saw 110 patients by myself in one shift. These are the realities.
When I look back on the height of the pandemic, I can’t believe how we did what we did. We worked as a team in the most difficult of circumstances. There are so many great things about the nursing profession, and ways for people to make an impact. It means a lot to me to make a difference in my work and community every day.
About: Nurse Mike Ward, a karate aficionado, is husband to wife Michelle and the father of five sons. He keeps a standing skeleton in his home office to teach his children about the human body. Learn about the opportunities and support available through the AAMN.