On Jan. 1, Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, will become the first male president of the American Nurses Association, an organization that has historically been largely female with few men in nursing members.
Although Grant has received nothing but encouragement so far, his two-year presidency will be closely followed by many of the nation’s 4 million nurses.
Grant, who was one of seven candidates running for the position, said this marked the first year in the organization’s history when two men were on the slate for president. Grant believes his victory not only demonstrates the ANA’s desire to reflect the diversity of the patient population nurses serve, but also a gender trend emerging in the workforce.
“We are seeing more and more men go into the field,” said Grant. “Men are realizing that they can provide for their families financially in nursing and that they enjoy the work.”
The percentage of male registered nurses more than doubled from 1990 to 2015, and now more than 14% of RNs are men, according to a recent National Nursing Workforce Study.
As an African-American male, Grant hopes to influence more men and minorities to enter the nursing profession, and he said planting the seeds earlier in life is particularly critical.
Grant witnessed the reality of gender stereotypes several years ago when he visited a school with a female firefighter. He asked fifth graders to identify the firefighter and the nurse, and all the students assumed he was the firefighter.
Grant’s own interest in nursing started when he overheard conversations at church among women who were working at the nearby regional hospital or local clinic for patients with tuberculosis. “At a young age, I wanted to help people who were vulnerable,” Grant said.
He was interested in becoming a physician, but the cost of medical school seemed out of reach for Grant, the youngest of seven children raised by his widowed mother. His high school guidance counselor suggested nursing as an alternative, and he enrolled in a licensed vocational nursing program.
Grant fell in love with clinicals early in his training because it afforded him the opportunity to leverage his new skills and knowledge to help patients.
“Six months into the program, it became clear that this was the profession for me,” he said.
To expand his skills and scope of practice, Grant enrolled in a bachelor’s degree in nursing program at North Carolina Central University, working full time as an LVN while he took classes. Instructors encouraged him to participate in the student nurses’ association and, after graduation, a colleague at work exhorted him to volunteer in a nursing association if he wanted to consider himself a professional nurse. He listened.
Although Grant was both a gender and ethnic minority in his job and leadership roles, he didn’t view himself that way. “I may be blazing the trail for others, but I was just doing what I enjoyed,” he said.
He joined the North Carolina Nurses Association and served on several committees and later as vice president and president of the organization. He also was elected to serve on the board of the ANA from 2000 to 2004 and returned to the board starting in 2015.
How he became politically savvy
In the clinical setting, he lived out his mission to help people by treating patients at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, and he identified a trend over time: many burn injuries were preventable.
Now he directs the center’s Burn Prevention Program and serves in leadership positions with the National Fire Protection Association and the American Burn Association, forums that have given him an opportunity to advocate for policy changes related to safer water heater temperatures, fire-safe cigarettes and stricter regulations for selling pyrotechnics.
“Through these experiences I learned different ways to approach politicians,” Grant said. “I needed to team up with legislators in order to get bills passed.”
When Grant decided to run for president of the ANA, he knew it would be another opportunity to practice persuading people.
Though he was already vice president of ANA in 2018, the president also was an elected position, so he hired a campaign chairman and visited ANA caucuses to build support for his election.
“I would study what was going on for nurses in different regions of the country to prepare for my meetings with representatives,” Grant said. “The issues going on could vary by region and state, and I needed to be ready to address their concerns.”
In June, two nurse representatives from each state gathered at the ANA’s Membership Assembly in Washington, D.C., and cast their votes. He won the majority of votes.
As president of the ANA, which has 200,000 members, one of Grant’s goals is to inspire more nurses to get involved in the political arenas that affect their profession.
“The decisions that are being made at the state and federal levels will influence our ability to care for patients,” Grant said. “As nurses, we naturally advocate for patients, and we can leverage this skill in political settings.”
Nurses, for example, can volunteer to serve on legislators’ campaigns or go to town hall meetings to speak up about how decisions are affecting nurses and the patients they care for, he said.
His plans to address prominent issues
Grant also plans to promote more diversity in nursing advertising campaigns and in programs where nurses visit schools to share the work they do with the students.
He’s also aware that the gender pay gap is an unfortunate reality in nursing and other industries. Data from the 2018 Nurse.com Nursing Salary Research Report showed that female nurses earned about $6,600 less per year than men in nursing.
“Employers need to start looking at the wage gap and begin to address the inequities through equal pay,” he said.
Making Congress more aware of the impending nursing shortage also is a top priority for Grant as the combination of an aging population and aging workforce increases the demand for new nurses to enter the profession. He hopes to lobby for increased funding for nursing education.
“Nurses also need to be aware of the resources that are available to help them fund their education,” he said.
Grant also plans to encourage more millennials to become ANA members. “They don’t tend to be joiners of organizations,” he said. “They’re not necessarily attracted to the same marketing techniques that may have been used to recruit people of my generation or baby boomers.”
Millennials want to know their membership has a broader meaning or benefit beyond belonging to an organization, he said.
Grant plans to arrive a day early at state meetings and host an event for younger nurses to give them an opportunity to share their ideas with him.
“We need to listen to millennials and also encourage them to get involved in the organization to advocate for the profession,” he said.
For Grant, the decision to join a professional organization as a young nurse was critical because it helped him discover his aptitude for leadership.
“Sometimes people see leadership skills that you don’t see in yourself,” he said. “When I started serving in state and national organizations, I realized I had a way of building consensus in spite of disagreements. I could get opposing groups to each give a little and eventually develop a plan and move forward.”
And now, the nurse from Swannanoa, N.C., population 4,500, will have an opportunity to do just that as president of the nation’s largest nursing organization.
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