Inside the mind of a male nurse leader.
Voted the most trusted profession for 19 years in a row, nurses have a legacy of strong ethical standards and honesty. Have you ever wondered how to leverage that trust to positively impact the nursing workforce and the healthcare industry overall? Today we have the privilege of introducing you to one of Georgia’s formative nurse leaders, Richard Lamphier, RN. He provides great insight into ways nurses can influence change. Richard is the President of the Georgia Nurses Association and has been the Clinical Programs Manager at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta since 2006. Richard outlines the important role nurses play in building back the public’s trust in the healthcare system and promoting preventive health, as well as his dream of where the nursing workforce will be in 50 years — imagine a nursing workforce equally representing all genders. He also highlights the importance of mental health prevention, the high rates of suicide for men, and his take on why men get a whole month dedicated to preventative health.
You graduated from nursing school in 1983, and at the time approximately 2% of nurses were male. What led you to nursing?
I was introduced to nursing in my home state, Michigan, when I was 19 years old and my close friend was in a severe car accident and was hospitalized in the ICU. I visited him daily for the 3 days before he passed away. During my visits with him, I got to know his nurses who were both male. Not only did they provide great care for my friend in the last days of his life, but they spent time getting to know me. I was interested in the technical aspects of their job and they took time to show me how the ventilator worked and other aspects of the care they provided. They also outlined the many benefits the nursing profession provides, like job security, ability to travel, working with technology, and caring for people at their most vulnerable. I started at a community college in Michigan and then went to nursing school in Florida. Holy Cross Hospital sponsored me to go to nursing school, and I worked as an orderly in the ER until I graduated. My friend and I had planned to go away to college together and since his death led me to start my journey into nursing, it felt like we did go to school together, after all.
What are 2-3 pivotal moments in your career?
Like most things in life, my projected path in nursing went differently than what I anticipated. After about five years of working at the bedside in ICU, I went into medical sales for 8 years and learned a lot about relationship building. I didn’t realize how important that would be! Then I returned to the hospital, armed with knowledge of the business side of the hospital that I learned from my sales role. As a nurse at the bedside, I didn’t think about the business side of it, i.e., the cost-effectiveness of products. I realized that we need to be prudent with our resources so we can pay for the nurses to care for patients!
The second pivotal moment in my career was when I got involved in the chapter level of the Georgia Nurses Association. I lived close to the GNA headquarters, and I decided to go there one day and that’s where the Metro-Atlanta chapter meets. They had an educational program, Dr. Karen Rowels was there and she was the chair-elect at the time. She invited me to the business meeting of the chapter and they needed volunteers for the leadership role. She asked if I wanted to do it and even though I had never done anything like this before, I told her I was willing to learn. We worked on events, and I asked to run for the board of directors and started to learn about the legislative aspect. They asked me to be on the legislative committee, and one of the first projects I worked on was the nurse license pact for Georgia. How do we improve nursing in Georgia? Nursing has been a giving career to me and I wanted to give back to nursing. I am the first man in 112 years to be the president of the association.
What was one of your biggest mistakes as a nurse and what did you learn from it?
My biggest mistake was not pursuing a higher education at a younger age. Continuing my education could have opened more doors for me, and I don’t think I will go back now. I don’t know that I have the commitment to do that so close to retirement and from a business perspective, it’s not a good return on investment.
I would have liked to climb the administrative ladder a little higher, and I went as far as my education allowed me. I also wish I would have joined GNA earlier because the mentorship I have gained since joining has been invaluable. They’ve provided career guidance and granted me access to resources. Who knows, maybe I would have advanced my education if I had joined the association earlier.
And last, and most importantly, not having a support system for what I saw as a nurse. That’s so important for the nurses now who have gone through the COVID pandemic. Talk about what you’ve been through and what you’ve seen — I wish I would have done that earlier. I have it now and the GNA is working to give front-line nurses access to talk therapy and support groups.
Why is innovation in healthcare, especially nursing, so important?
Innovation and technology make our job easier and safer. Think about lifts to help move patients. The technology that helps prevent patient falls, like bed alarms. All those simple things we don’t think about. We didn’t have this when I first started – we have it so much easier now. Tech is getting more intuitive and easier to use. We can leverage tech to help with staffing, whereas we used to do it on a piece of paper. More experienced nurses should embrace the technology.
What do you hope to see change in the next 50 years for nurses?
The big thing I want to see is nurses leveraging the trust that the public has in us to advance nursing and advance health and wellness in the community, and also to prevent social injustice. I would like to see more public health nurses and community nurses. An increased focus on prevention versus treatment. Nurses have an excellent opportunity to lead their states and the nation in healthcare reform. I would also like to see the number of men in the profession to be closer to 50%. Currently, men only make up about 12% of the workforce. When men and women think together it’s better because they both bring equally valuable yet different perspectives. Men want to fix but we need women there to help give directions. As women move into areas that have been predominantly men, they bring a unique perspective. Men can do that in nursing and bring a unique perspective that compliments what’s already here.
One of the things I would like to see for the Georgia Nurses Association is a program that leads nurses through the process of bedside to manager to director and give them the tools and knowledge of the business side of it. When nurses go into management, they have to learn the business side of healthcare, which can be a steep learning curve.
Final question: last month was Men’s Health Awareness. I think you have a unique perspective on this as a man and as a nurse. Why do you think it’s important for men to have a whole month dedicated to preventative health?
The first thing that comes to mind is mental health. Often men see verbalizing feelings of depression or anxiety as a weakness and are reticent to talk with someone and access help. We’ve been taught as men to be tough. I want men to know it’s ok to talk about your feelings and mental health with a close friend, peer group, or even professional. The American Psychological Association estimates that 9% of men have daily feelings of depression and anxiety, men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women, and men over the age of 85 have the highest rate of suicide than any other demographic. We need to start to normalize the discussion around mental health for men so that we can see more men accessing help.
Second, men need to remember the importance of preventative medicine. Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider is vital. Since a primary care provider is a long-term relationship, you want to shop around to find someone you are comfortable with and who you trust. Second, for prevention, think of your body the same way you do your house – just like preventive maintenance with a home, you have to repair things as you go. Preventative medicine is a long-term investment in the quality and longevity of your life.
Richard exemplifies hard work, honesty, and resilience that is needed to move the nursing industry forward. It was an honor to talk with him, learn from his mistakes, and let him paint a picture of the future in healthcare where nurses use their strengths to promote preventative medicine and advocate for social justice.