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First Man To Lead The American Nurses Association Doesn’t Want To Be Called A ‘Male Nurse’

Ernest Grant standing at a podium.
Courtesy of the American Nurses Association
Ernest Grant, the first male president of the American Nurses Association.

As a boy Ernest Grant was enchanted by the nurses who attended his church in Swannanoa, a small area in western North Carolina. He often overheard them talking about their work at a local tuberculosis sanitarium and vividly remembers their stories of caring for patients.

Grant also had a deep admiration for the two country doctors in his community. He wanted to become a doctor, and he had the grades to get into medical school, but he did not have the money.

His guidance counselor advised him to become a nurse first and then to work his way through medical school. But once Grant got to nursing school, he realized he had found his passion.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Grant about his decades-long career at the UNC School of Medicine’s North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center; his experience helping treating patients in New York City after 9/11; and his goals as the first male president of the American Nurses Association.

Interview Highlights

On being a nurse in the late 1970s:

With my female colleagues, one of the things I had to establish very quickly was that we went to the same nursing program. I am your equal. I don't mind helping you lift this patient or whatever, but what would you do if I wasn't here? How would you achieve that? And so to stand your ground and make sure that they understood that we're equal — that was quite a challenge, but eventually [I] was accepted and continued on from there.

We're with the patient 24/7. We get to know them very well. We get to earn their trust. Actually, for the 17th year in a row, nursing has been rated as the number one trusted profession in the country. - Ernest Grant

On why he decided to stay at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center for 36 years:

I love that work, because it was very challenging. I realized that everything I learned in nursing school — and I literally do mean everything — I could apply on a daily setting. The fascinating thing about the burn center is that we treated patients from the very young to the very old. In fact, the youngest patient I had was a week old. So you had to be very well versed in the care of those different populations. And also realize that you're dealing with people who may also come in with other additional problems, in addition to the fact that they've been burned. There's the psychosocial issues as well, a lot of cultural issues — you were challenged on a number of sides. And that's what made that job so really fascinating is that no one day or two days were the same. Every day was a different day.

On how the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center addresses the psychosocial aspect of burns:

People who sustained a burn would tend to become what we call reclusive ...They'd be discharged; they stay home; they wouldn't get out in the public for fear of people looking at them, staring at them, perhaps making fun of them … Our medical director saw the need for that and developed a very strong what we call aftercare program. And part of that program is addressing those psychosocial issues: What to say, perhaps, when people are looking at your scars; how to dress; [how] to apply makeup that perhaps does not make those scars as prominent … We have a couples weekend therapy, because again, you not only have to talk about the psychosocial issue, you have to talk about the intimacy issues as well: Does my spouse still find me sexually attractive? And things like that are some of the ways that we help our patients cross those hurdles and realize that they have a new life, a new beginning.

On why diversity in nursing is important:

America is a melting pot. And if you are from another ethnicity, and all you see are people who do not look like you, you're probably apprehensive. You probably are not going to be very open and forthcoming with members of the healthcare team, or at least [not] right away. But you are put at ease when you see someone that that looks like you, that is from your own culture … It's a great way to have that blending and to establish that trust.

NOTE: This program originally aired on April 29, 2019. 

Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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