The nurse: Phil Roston

As one of the few men in the female-dominated Maurine Church School of Nursing at Monterey Peninsula College (MPC) back in 1990, Phil Roston sometimes wished there had been someone of his gender to provide guidance and support.

"We really didn’t have any male role models," Roston says. "All of our clinical instructors were female."

Roston, an assistant director of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula’s Main Pavilion, also noticed differences in approach between the male and female students. While the women tended to bond and study collectively, he says, the men typically went solo.

Roston is trying to help ensure that male students in today’s MPC nursing program don’t have those same experiences. He is one of a number of working male nurses, primarily from Community Hospital, participating in a new men-in-nursing group at MPC.

The effort, which offers a chance for frank discussions about the male experience in nursing, as well as a venue to suggest changes, is aimed primarily at male students in the MPC program. But working male nurses have also agreed to participate, giving students a chance to interact with professionals like Roston.

Roston says he welcomes the chance to serve as a mentor, figuring that a few encouraging words might be enough to keep a struggling male student from dropping out.

"There were several guys in my class who withdrew," Roston says. "I think one of the things that might have contributed was a lack of support from males who would understand their issues."

Roston, 51, of Seaside, previously worked as an orderly at the hospital, then got his nursing degree in 1991 and has been a nurse at Community Hospital ever since. He had served as the equivalent of a licensed vocational nurse in the Army, which he figures gave him an edge over other men in his registered-nursing class. He also says he thinks his upbringing by a single mother probably gave him a greater appreciation for the female point of view and helped him navigate the nursing program a little easier.

Roston is one of about a half-dozen Community Hospital nurses, along with a few nurses from other hospitals, who have participated in the men-in-nursing group at MPC. They attend monthly meetings held at the college that attract just about the entire class of male students in the nursing program.

"One of the biggest issues with guys is feeling comfortable with patients, particularly female patients," Roston says. "As a nurse, you really have to touch people."

Thanks to nurses like Roston, male students at MPC now have someone they can talk to about that sensitive subject, man-to-man.