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Men who nurse

In the Emmy award winning American sitcom Scrubs, one of the main characters, Doctor Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), dates a nurse called Paul Flowers. Yes, you heard that right. Paul is often at the receiving end of jokes aimed at his profession. Two male doctors called him a “murse” and accused of him of doing “women’s work”. Elliot, too, is mortified when she belatedly learns that Paul is a nurse and not a physician.

Hollywood acknowledged the problem with Meet the Parents, where Ben Stiller is a male nurse meeting the girl’s parents for the first time. His case is complicated more because the character’s name is Gaylord Focker.

But closer home such gender stereotypes do not seem to hold. Quite the opposite. In Calcutta, the profession has become a ticket to that precious “foreign job”, especially in the US and the UK, and thus a sought-after-career. For women — and for men.

Hospitals in Calcutta are recruiting male nurses in significant numbers. Says the nursing superintendent of Apollo Gleneagles, Lakshmi Bhattacharya: “There are about 20 male nurses in this hospital. In the last year we’ve been flooded with applications from young male nurses.” There are 380 nurses in the hospital.

Among a total of 500 nurses, AMRI has 49 male nurses. Sri Aurobindo Seva Kendra (popularly known as EDF hospital) had recruited about 15 male nurses in 2006, though a lot of them have left to prepare for entrance examinations for going abroad — IELTS for the UK and NCLEX for the US.

Most of the nurses, however, aren’t Calcuttan. “The only Bengali applicants we seem to get are ex-army nurses. None of the freshers are Bengali,” adds Bhattacharya.

The “freshers” or trainees are nearly always from the south, especially Kerala and Karnataka. Calcutta is a convenient stopover on their route to success, which lies in the West.

“Most of the nurses are from Kerala,” says the AMRI deputy medical superintendent, Suman Ghosh. Most are also very young — within the age group of 22- 27.

They see nothing unusual in their career choice. They are more puzzled by the reaction of people here. “I see nothing strange in a guy choosing this profession. It is a pretty common choice for boys my age, where I come from. A lot of my cousins are in the same line too. My interest in this profession grew after I saw them doing well,” says 22-year-old Ebin K. Ittiyavirah, a nurse in the general ward in West Bank Hospital in Howrah.

Echoes 23-year-old Sobin Joseph, a nurse at Apollo Gleneagles: “My neighbours in Calcutta were very surprised when they heard that I was a nurse. They said that they didn’t know of any nurses who were men.”

The main reason why the men are here is the scope for working abroad and raking in the moolah. “Once you have experience and can get work as a nurse abroad you can earn as much as Rs 1 lakh a month,” says Sobin. “It is also a noble profession,” is his afterthought.

Shyamjeet from West Bank Hospital, Howrah, who is in a critical unit in a private hospital, says: “I’ll work here for two more years and then try to go abroad.”

Many of these nurses are in the emergency ward — the assumption being men have “quicker reflexes” and “an ability to handle very stressful conditions”.

Ex-army nurse Sanjay Samajdar, who has been in the emergency ward of the West Bank Hospital for eight years, says: “The army generally takes male nurses and being in the army trains us better for an emergency situation.”

Large healthcare groups are making the best of the trend of Indian nurses going abroad. Apollo has a training programme called the “Global Nursing Programme”. Under this programme, the hospital prepares nurses for entrance exams abroad. Other hospitals have plans for similar programmes.

Thousands of Indian nurses are employed abroad. In the US, where the youth does not seem attracted to the profession any more, there are vacancies in thousands and Indians are filling up the posts in significant numbers.

According to an estimate, among the 11,477 foreign (non-EU) nurses working in the UK during 2004-2005, 3,690 were Indian.

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