Justin So, a junior nursing student at Mennonite College of Nursing, was a featured guest for MCN’s new podcast, MCN On Air. He sat down with podcast host, Noah Schlosser, on November 2, 2021, and shared his perspective as a male studying nursing, a field which has historically been predominately female.
Here’s an excerpt of their conversation, highlighting Justin’s experience as a “labbie” in the Nursing Simulation Lab, time in clinical settings, and his thoughts on what men in nursing can bring to the table. We invite you to listen to the sixth episode of MCN On Air in its entirety.
Tell us a little bit more about what you’re involved with here at ISU, and specifically at MCN.
I work at the simulation lab here for Mennonite College of Nursing. I am a laboratory assistant, or a “labbie,” and we help run scenarios. We help set up these scenarios for nursing students. So recently, I got to run Adult III, which is the third level for the fundamentals of nursing. I got to set up a scenario for running codes and a heart attack situation, but it was just really fun acting these scenarios out, because I also do act in these scenarios.
Nice! Tell me a little about that. How does that work?
So, basically, I’ll set up all these scenarios, and then we’ll have the students come in. They’ll know what the situation is, where all the equipment is for the scenario, to help them during the scenario and the situation they’re given. So, in that situation, either you can act in person, or you can be a mannequin, and I was being a voice for a mannequin. I was telling them, “Oh, I’ve been feeling good,” or “I’ve been feeling bad,” “I’ve been feeling…” whatever the situation’s about. And so, at the time, “I” was going to “experience” a heart attack. And what they wanted me to do was feel sick by the end of it, and faint.
And so, I just made a death noise. Like, “ugghh.” I just “died,” and then they would start coding me. I got to see their compressions, and how hard they were giving compressions. I had to see them run the code. I just got to see them run this scenario, and then their instructors would also come and watch and evaluate them during their scenarios. But it’s just really fun running those. I really enjoy doing it.
Awesome. So, what inspired you to jump into that heavy simulation work, being a “labbie?”
So, the director of simulation, Joanna, I actually had her as a teacher in one of my classes. It was my health assessment class, so she was teaching me how to do head-to-toes, and she was telling us about the “labbie” position. I was like, “Oh! I’d love to do it.” Because, I just really enjoyed working with her.
Sweet. So for anybody who is listening and might not know what a head-to-toe is, can you kind of explain what that is?
Yeah, so to sum it all up, a head-to-toe is basically an overall assessment of the patient and looking for any abnormalities in the patient. So, let’s say they came in for a fracture. You’d look at the fracture and focus your assessment around the fracture, but also look at every other part of the body while doing the assessment.
So, it’s very thorough.
Yes, it’s very thorough. It’s very detailed. But it’s done really quickly, and you want to do it very quickly, because in the real world, you don’t have much time to assess patients. You only have a certain amount of time to assess a number of patients, since you’ll be caring for a number of patients.
So, it’s super quick. It’s kind of in-and-out, rolling through. But at the same time, being thorough.
Yes, you need to look at every detail. You’ll be looking at a lot, just looking at one part. Let’s say I’m listening to the back of the lungs. I’ll also be looking at their back, looking for any skin abnormalities.
You mentioned a little bit earlier that you had done some clinical work. How has that experience been?
Last semester was my first round of clinicals, and I had two rotations. The first rotation, I was working on a long-term care facility, and then the second one, I was working on med-surg floor. They’ve been great. My first semester of clinicals, I had two really good professors, or instructors. They did a really good job of getting me into it, like showing me how the assessment works, how charting works, and just giving me that little introduction I needed. And right now, I am working on the OBGYN floor, working with babies, and then also working on another med-surg floor, ortho-neuro floor and that’s also been good. I’ve really been honing my head-to-toe assessment skills and my charting.
I guess going from there, you’ve had experience working in these different areas of nursing. Is there anything that you just seem to gravitate toward?
Specifically, I’m looking into ER work or emergency room, trauma, or even surgery, or even working with kids or pediatrics. I have not worked in those fields yet, but I kind of already know what I want to go into. But even when I’m looking toward the future, I know that I want to go back to school, not too long after I’m working, but a little while after getting some experience in the hospital. I really want to go back to school and maybe pick up my nursing practitioner or my Master’s in Nursing Science, and become a nursing practitioner or even get my CRNA, which is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Or, I’ve honestly been thinking about going to med school and becoming a surgeon… I don’t know. During clinicals, I actually got to experience an OR rotation, and I got to see what happens in the OR and all the prepping, they’re counting the towels and they’re counting the materials needed to perform the surgery. And I really enjoyed it. It was long, I had to stand there for a while, and, you know, it doesn’t help that I have flat feet, but I really did enjoy the anatomy. So, I got to see a colon resection. So, they’re taking a part of the colon, or the large intestine, taking out a bad part, because the patient had a fistula, and that’s basically where a passageway from an organ is going to another organ, and it shouldn’t be there.
I think the patient had a fistula from the colon to the bladder, and that’s not right, ’cause his bowel would be going right into the bladder, and we don’t want that.
But yeah, it was just really cool, seeing the surgery. I mean, the only thing I didn’t like was the smell of burning skin. It’s just…not pleasant. (Laugh)
Yeah, definitely not. But it sounds like the rest of it was a really cool experience!
Yeah, I really enjoyed it. During clinicals this semester, I was in the ortho-neuro floor, but my instructor was like, “Oh, you want to head up to the OR today?” I was like, “Yes, I would love to see what that’s like in real life!” Because, you know, we always watch…I don’t know if there’s any fans of Grey’s Anatomy out there, but to be honest, even as a nursing major, watching, I know that it’s not as realistic as it could be. I was able to see what it was in real life, and I just really enjoyed it.
So, let me ask you something. So, historically, nursing has been a pretty female-dominated profession. As a guy in nursing school, what’s your perspective on the field, and what can you provide?
Just a quick fun fact, I actually didn’t know this until I got to the nursing program, but my class has the biggest number of guys they’ve had in the nursing program, compared to girls.
Really? That’s awesome!
The ratio is 40 to 60.
So, at the start, the guys made a little group chat, and we were all talking, because, you know, we got all the guys together. Being in a field that’s predominantly female, it’s kind of been weird sometimes working with patients, because they’re expecting a woman. When I was in clinicals, working in this long-term care facility, my first patient was this elderly woman. We had to give her a bed bath. But she didn’t feel comfortable with me. And usually, you know, since I’m in a female dominated field, I could just pass it off to another girl in my clinical group. But, if it were a guy getting a bed bath, a girl wouldn’t be able to do the same and the guy might want help from a male nurse. So, just being there as a male is sometimes helpful. Or, in a patient’s room, and they need a male to be there, being there for that patient. Or being there for that nurse, especially if they need someone extra, or if they need extra muscle to move a patient or transfer a patient somewhere else. I’ve actually heard from my friend who works in the ER, they have like a code, and when they use that code, they need extra muscle to come up and help them.
So, if you were to speak right now to other guys who were thinking about potentially going into the nursing field, what advice and what words of encouragement do you have for them?
You can definitely do it. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have at the moment, or where you are now. Coming into this, I’d only volunteered at a hospital in high school. I’m here now. I’ve made it. I’m getting that experience now. It doesn’t matter when you get that experience, so don’t be afraid to hop into something you don’t have a lot of experience in.
Don’t be afraid to hop into something that may make you a little bit uncomfortable.
Yeah! Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable, it’s okay to be uncomfortable.
Yeah, and I think, like in any profession, but especially nursing, some of the biggest amounts of growth come from those moments of discomfort.
Exactly, yes, because you’re just put in a lot of situations where you don’t know what to do sometimes, and you just kind of have a learning experience from that.
So, what do you think has been your most memorable experience at MCN?
The most memorable thing for me…honestly, my first clinical group that I was with, I just really had a fun time getting to know, and we had a great time working with each other in the clinical setting. And we all got along, and we were all just seeing each other grow. We were all getting closer, and I really enjoyed having this first-time experience as a nurse with them. We really helped each other out, and we gave each other perspective, and it was kind of weird, because even our clinical instructor had said that she’s never been with a group of people that has been split evenly between genders. We were four guys and four girls, and it was just really weird for the instructor to even see that, because it’s so uncommon.
Yeah, it’s rare. It’s so rare. My instructor was like, “The most I’ve ever seen is like two guys, six girls.” And I was like, “Wow, it must be really weird having a group that’s equally distributed in guys and girls.”
It definitely sounds to me, in all these conversations that I’ve had in, and outside of, this podcast, that community is really a big aspect of MCN.
Yeah, like having that community of guys there with me has been really helpful, because, you know, my friend from high school who is going to a different nursing school now, he told me that he was actually the only guy in the nursing school. And I was like, “Wow, that must be so, like, weird different.” He kind of feels like an outsider to the nursing school, because he has no one he can really fall back on that can relate to him, because he’s a guy. We can relate to girls, but we all have different perspectives. We all have different backgrounds. It’s been really nice having that group of guys with me. In our maternal and infant, or the class that we’re learning about pregnancies and babies in, our professor actually holds this thing called ‘guys group,’ and she has anyone that’s a guy come in, and she helps them study, and gives study tips and more insight. And she provides a space where guys can come in and ask questions they might be afraid to ask around girls, because they might find it embarrassing to ask these questions in front of girls.
Right. Different perspective.
Exactly. They might not want to ask it, because girls might know about something already, just because they are girls.
Exactly. That’s awesome. I guess the last question I have for you is, for people who are thinking about nursing school, why should they consider MCN? What’s the thing that sets us apart?
Something that sets us apart, honestly, is the staff here. I honestly have had some great interactions with the professors here, and the people who run the simulation lab have just been great, and I feel like they do a good job of guiding you toward a good path, or they do a good job of setting students on the right track to where they should be as a nurse, and where they should be at when entering the medical workforce.
Right, the goal isn’t to just graduate for the sake of graduating. The goal is to graduate with this degree, with which you can actually go out and create some tangible change in the world.
Yeah. Talking to one of my professors this semester, she was telling me, she wants me to succeed. I’m struggling to do well in the class, but she’s wanting to support me. She’s there for me. She’s giving me advice, and she’s wanting me to do well. She’s not, like, right away dismissing me. She’s not like that. I’m glad that professors here give students a chance to really prove themselves. Even during that first semester of nursing school or at clinicals, you could really see students struggling, and the professors really being there for their students.
That definitely seems to be a reoccurring topic, that no matter what student I talk to, the dedication of the professors, of the faculty and staff, really speaks volumes.
Yeah, it really does. Just for professors I’ve had for my classes, I’ve really felt like they’ve done such a good job of setting me on the right track. Like I said, I had the director of the simulation lab, Joanna, in my health assessment class, and I feel like she did a really good job of teaching me how to do those proper head-to-toes, and just introducing me to the idea of head-to-toes. And my adult I professor and clinical instructor, Michelle Shropshire, also did such a fantastic job of just letting me dip my feet into something new.
That’s excellent. So, this podcast is designed to motivate and inspire people. Before we wrap up, is there anything you’d like to add? Any words of encouragement for anyone?
Something that I’d like to say is, just making sure to focus on the content you’re learning for your prereqs, or your prerequisites, because I feel like they do a pretty good job of getting you ready for your nursing courses. Because learning, for instance, about the anatomy of the human body, I feel like that instruction did a really good job of getting me ready for nursing school. You really need to know the anatomy to do well in nursing. Just make sure to focus on your prerequisites and doing well in those courses. Making sure you understand those concepts. A word of advice from me is, if you know you want to go into nursing, if you have the motivation to do something you’re passionate about, go for it.