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More male students are turning to nursing as a career path rather than medical school, partially due to the high costs associated with becoming a physician.

Credit: Alykhan Lalani , Alykhan Lalani

It's a question nurses hear all the time: "Oh, you're just a nurse. Can I see the doctor?" 

For Margo Brooks Carthon, assistant professor of family and community health in the School of Nursing, the question represents a widespread misunderstanding in how nurses are educated and what their role in hospitals is. In an interview last month with WHYY-FM, Brooks Carthon dispelled misconceptions about the nursing profession. 

“Nurse practitioners are definitely not trying to usurp the role of physicians," Brooks Carthon said in the interview. "Nurse practitioners are leaders in healthcare, but they are also working collaboratively with physicians when appropriate.” 

She said the nursing profession includes making fast-paced decisions that can result in life or death. These crucial moments require the critical thinking and judgement that only highly educated and trained medical professionals can provide. Most nurses hold a bachelor's degree in Nursing, and many pursue postgraduate degrees as well. 

“I think most people have very little information about what nurses do," Brooks Carthon told The Daily Pennsylvanian. "Many people don’t recognize the training that is required to become a nurse."

She added, “What is unique about nursing is that it brings together the humanities, psychology and the hard sciences because that is how we approach healthcare delivery. We approach patients in a holistic way."

As a profession, nursing is responsive to societal changes, particularly with the recent implementation  of the Affordable Care Act.

“The ACA focuses more on community health and prevention," she said. "That has required the Nursing faculty to teach students about how to take care of patients in the context of the healthcare transformation, including taking care of a diverse population.”

There are three million nurses in the United States, making up the largest proportion of healthcare providers in the country. The nursing profession has also seen a growing number of men joining the field. The percentage of male registered nurses jumped from 2.7 percent in 1970 to 9.6 percent in 2011, according the American Community Survey.

Brooks Carthon attributed the fact that more college students are opting to become nurse practitioners rather than doctors to the high cost of medical school. Although, she said the nursing degree is one of the toughest undergraduate degrees to finish because of the time-intensive clinicals and taxing course requirements. 

Perhaps the most integral part of of the curriculum is teaching nursing students to be leaders.

“We train our nursing students to think of themselves as nursing agents," she said. "We indoctrinate them into a way of thinking and a way of knowing so they are ready to produce a counterargument when someone questions their viability."