The Record, August 2005 -- NURSES ARE REALLY the unsung heroes of the medical field. They routinely clean wounds, draw blood, and administer medication, giving them the most direct contact with patients. They see both recovery and deterioration.
Randy Jones '98 thought for a while that he wanted to be a doctor; now, in a way, he is. He graduated from the University of Virginia this spring with a PhD in nursing, and is, by his own estimation, one of "probably less than 20" African-American men to earn such a distinction.
According to figures compiled by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, only 16 of 412 doctoral nursing degrees awarded in 2004 went to men, and only 28 to African Americans.
Jones graduated from Hampden- Sydney College with a degree in biology with the intention of going to medical school. During his years on the Hill he took part in a summer program for minorities interested in the medical profession. "I got to shadow some doctors," says Jones. "I discovered that it wasn't as appealing as I thought it would be-doctors have only a limited exposure to their patients. So I decided to try nursing school for a year to see if I liked it. I figured I could always go back to pursuing my MD if I didn't." It turns out that he loved it.
He enrolled at the University of Virginia and after seven years has earned a bachelor's degree, a Master's degree, a nurse practitioner's certificate in mental health, and a doctorate. During this time, Jones also worked part-time in the University of Virginia Medical Center's mental health unit. In 2000, Jones finished UVa's undergraduate nursing program and accepted a research fellowship at the University's Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Despite an interest in science, "nursing was the farthest thing from my mind in high school," says Jones. The native of Prospect says he turned to medicine because he thought the career outlook was brighter. Going from all-male Hampden-Sydney to UVa's female-dominated School of Nursing was a big change, but did offer a comfortable similarity: "It was more of the same feeling of a small school. Everyone was pretty open, gave good advice, and seemed to want to help me get to the next level."
His doctoral dissertation focused on the use of holistic medicine by African-American men with prostate cancer. He found that, although these patients may use some herbal medicines along with conventional drugs, the chief alternative therapy used by the 14 men he surveyed was prayer.
"We need to be more open to talking about spirituality," Jones says. "In health care, we put up barriers. We just want to give out meds. We need to move toward a more holistic approach."
His interest in this specialty was fueled by an uncle who developed prostate cancer and later died. Jones notes that African-American men are three times more likely than white men to suffer from the disease. "It's still unclear why African-American men have such a high incidence of prostate cancer compared to whites," says Jones. He believes many factors may explain this phenomenon, from low socioeconomic status to high underemployment and non-insurance rates, to distrust of the medical profession that leads to delay in seeking healthcare or missing needed screenings. "It's a trust issue," Jones explains. He says many African-American men are aware of Tuskegee experiments that denied treatment into the 1960s for black men with syphilis.
Though Jones grew up in Prospect, he admits that he had not spent much time around Hampden- Sydney College, before enrolling as a freshman. "I knew that it was a pretty good institution and that I could get a one-on-one experience with my professors," he says. The availability of Hampden-Sydney's professors was the deciding factor. "I was accepted at other schools, but I didn't want to be just another number."
Jones is thankful for the direction and insight provided by his biology professors, particularly Drs. Ann Lund, Alexander Werth, William Shear, and Stanley Gemborys. A vital part of his education, though, came from English professor Dr. George Bagby. Jones explains, "I did an interdisciplinary project with Dr. Bagby about the closing of the Prince Edward County Schools and he taught me a lot about the grunt work involved in research. I learned much about making sense out of a time that caused so much turmoil."
Now he uses his research skills to increase health-care opportunities for vulnerable and minority communities. He wants health-care professionals to be aware of the issues facing these groups and hopes this awareness will lead to reduced mortality rates and a better quality of life.
Though African-American male nurses are rare, Jones says he has not had many negative encounters with patients. Going to the femaledominated fi eld of nursing took some adjusting, but Jones has adapted. "When I did my initial clinical trials [in obstetrics and gynecology], I was a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but I felt much better after the fi rst or second time. On the other hand, some men prefer a male nurse, especially for things like having to insert a catheter into the penis."
The United States is suffering from a serious shortage of nurses; some hospitals are recruiting nurses from other countries. There are many reasons for this problem, according to Jones, including many pre-med students wanting the "fame" of being a doctor. Money is also an issue; like doctors, nurses also accumulate large student-loan debts, but do not make the same kind of money doctors do (though Jones admits, "You can do pretty well"). Another reason: a shortage of qualifi ed teachers. Nursing schools must limit their enrollment based on the number of teaching nurses holding a doctoral degree. "The hardest part about being a nurse is getting people to understand the amount of work involved and understanding the breadth of nurses' knowledge," says Jones. "Doctors sometimes consult with nurses about how to treat their patients because the nurses have more contact with the patient and understand what the person is going through. Nurses really do make a difference in peoples' lives."
Soon Jones will decide where to work. Will he be a health-care consultant, a professor, or a researcher . or maybe a little of each? Regardless of the path he chooses, Jones knows there is one thing he will be doing: "I need to spread the idea of being able to get a PhD in nursing. There are some MDs here [at the University of Virginia] who didn't know you could get a PhD in clinical nursing research. I also want people to be more aware that being a male and being a minority does not preclude you from being a nurse." Randy Jones '98 is in high demand as one of the country's few African- American men with a doctorate.
Article by Cody Lowe