East Baltimore native Hershaw Davis Jr. has been teaching in Morgan State’s nursing department since 2018.
He was asked to join the university’s faculty by nursing director Maija Anderson after he visited Morgan for National Nurses Week.
Although he has enjoyed a successful career as a registered nurse, Davis Jr. didn’t always envision himself in the profession.
Growing up, most Black men who Davis Jr. knew pursued careers in either engineering, business, or law. But not in nursing.
“I didn’t see many Black male nurses, so I didn’t think about nursing as an option for a Black male,” Davis Jr. said.
As of 2017, less than 16 percent of registered nurses in the U.S. were Black, and that figure was even lower for Black men, according to the National Nursing Workforce Survey from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
The stereotype of nursing being associated with femininity dates back to the 16th century, according to pediatric nurse practitioner Ersilia Pompilio.
She said that during the Protestant Reformation, nursing and housework was considered a “woman’s job.”
Before Davis Jr. became a nurse, he worked for The U.S. Department of Defense. He always wanted a job where he could help people, so Davis Jr. switched career paths while he was in his 30s.
Inspired by an ad in the newspaper, he decided to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
He started working at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the surgical stepdown and oncology unit, and eventually made his way to the emergency department.
In 2008, he became an emergency department technician where he assisted doctors and nurses with treating patients. He later worked as a registered nurse and a case manager.
Davis Jr. said that while working at Hopkins, there were times when he only counted about four Black male nurses in a department of over 200 people. He also worked in medical facilities in rural areas where there have been only one or two Black nurses in the entire department.
Two years ago, Davis Jr. spoke to Morgan students at a healthcare event along with another Black male nurse.
He told the students that if they were to work in a health facility, it would be rare for them to see many Black male nurses.
“Seeing two of us, you all are lucky,” Davis Jr. said. “You will never see this again.”
During his career, he has experienced both racial and gender biases.
He is often the first one called to do the physical aspects of nursing like lifting patients.
“I’m getting paid to be a nurse and take care of patients,” Davis Jr. said. “Not to be your personal bodybuilder.”
Black male nurses have faced gender discrimination for decades.
In 1979, Joe Hogan, a Black male nurse living in Mississippi, was denied admission to the nursing program at the Mississippi University for Women because of his gender.
Davis Jr. received his undergraduate nursing degree from the University of Maryland in Baltimore (UMB) and his Master of Science in nursing from the University of Virginia.
He said he has had patients refuse his care and view him as less qualified because of his skin color. Some of his co-workers and patients have had a hard time grasping the fact that a Black man like himself could be well-educated.
“My mere existence is cognitive dissonance for them,” he said.
Davis Jr. began teaching at Morgan so that he could help the next generation of Black male nurses prepare for their professional careers.
One of his former students is Salisbury, Md. native Kye Stewart.
The senior nursing student said that growing up, he often frequented the hospitals as a patient.
The quality of care he received from the nurses inspired him to pursue the field.
Stewart said that some men shy away from a nursing career because of the stereotypes associated with being a male nurse. He said that many people view nursing as feminine.
“There’s not a lot of male nurses in general, let alone Black male nurses,” Stewart said.
However, surveys show that the number of Black male nurses is growing. According to the NCSBN, the number of male nurses in 2017 was 2 percent higher than in 2013.
And a 2009 study of Black men in nursing conducted by sociologist Adia Wingfield suggested that Black men were not bothered by gender stereotypes, for the most part.
Recent research supports Wingfield’s study.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is expected to be more than 735,000 jobs added in nursing by 2024. As a result, the percentage of male nurses is expected to increase.
“Heretofore males were more visible in health care agencies and institutions such as the armed forces and government run hospitals,” said Joan Tilghman, the chair of Coppin State University’s nursing program. “I am encouraged that male representation has increased significantly in our discipline.”
Stewart has enjoyed his experience being a male nursing student at Morgan.
According to Stewart, the comprehensive nursing courses and the skills laboratory Morgan’s nursing program provides have helped him tremendously. He said that the program’s teachers also provide a solid framework for students.
“It makes it easier for you down the line,” Steward said.
Stewart is currently receiving clinical experience at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Baltimore homeless shelter Project PLASE.
He said some of the male patients he has treated have preferred a male nurse as opposed to being treated by a female nurse.
Stewart hasn’t experienced a racially charged encounter at work but said that if he were to experience one, he wouldn’t let it get in the way of him getting his job done effectively.
“As long as my co-workers can cooperate with me enough to get the job done, you can think whatever you want about me,” he said.
After graduating, Stewart hopes to work in the intensive care unit (ICU). He said that he’s excited to experience the constant action that happens in the ICU.
Hershaw’s story is a part of “Black Health Matters,” a year-long reporting program through The Poynter Institute’s College Media Project. The project’s objective: to tell health related stories through the lens of Black college students, while examining possible solutions.