Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Vern L. Bullough, 1928-2006

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Vern L. Bullough, 1928-2006

Article excerpt

Vern Bullough, a dear friend and trusted colleague, died at home on June 21, 2006. Vern was a noted historian of sexuality, nursing, and medicine, a loving husband, and a devoted father. Those pieces of his life were celebrated in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and our own Bulletin of the American Association for the History of Nursing.

Vern had been working on a history of nursing at the time of his death. He fully intended to complete this work but when he recognized the seriousness of his illness, he sent the first draft of it to Pat D'Antonio, with instructions "to do with it whatever [she] wanted." The draft was not yet a scholarly examination of men in nursing but rather a reflection of Vern's view of how men have historically functioned and fared as a minority in the nursing profession.

Vern's knowledge and understanding of the profession came from several sources, including his medical and medieval-historical scholarship, his marriage to Dr. Bonnie Bullough, nurse educator and dean, and his personal experiences as a nurse. Vern and Bonnie coauthored, over three decades, multiple articles and books on nursing's history and the issues the profession faced in the health care arena. To enhance and enrich his personal understanding of nursing, a profession he had long admired, Vern, in 1981, at age 51, graduated from the California State University's baccalaureate nursing education program. Thus, his reflection stems from a lifetime experience as a medical historian and as a nurse with fellow nurses and the nursing profession.

Inherent in Vern's reflection is his awareness of the overt and covert discrimination that men faced in the profession and from a society that deemed nursing women's work. He offers insight into one problematic outcome of the 1970s move of nurse theorists to advance the profession by identifying it as a caring profession and emphasizing that caring was a particular feminine trait. This, he believed, robbed male nurses of the ability to adequately care for patients, and in response Vern, drawing on his large body of gender research, argues that this conclusion is faulty and damaging to male nurses.

Vern, in his own quiet way, was an ardent advocate for the right of all minorities to be treated fairly and humanly. Discrimination was a concept that Vern spent much of his life attempting to eradicate from society. It genuinely puzzled him why society chose to treat people with different traits, races, lifestyles, or the like as less than human. He passionately believed that it was not only harmful to the disenfranchised individual but that in discriminating, society lost the human potential of large numbers of people who could contribute to the improvement of humankind.

Thank you, Vern, for your thoughts. We offer some excerpts from your draft as our tribute to you as a nursing colleague, a friend, and a historian.

Reflections on Men in Nursing: Past, Present, and Future?


Men have always been nurses. . . . Since the nineteenth century, however, the proportion of men in nursing has radically declined. Acceptable statistics about men in nursing in today's world are difficult to come by, but . . . most current estimates still range between 5 and 6 percent. . . . [But] the numbers are slowly increasing and in recent years over 10 percent of the students receiving degrees in nursing in both the baccalaureate programs and associate of arts programs were men and these percentages have also been rising. Visibly, also, men nurses are playing an increasing[ly] important role in nursing, particularly in such fields as anesthesia. In this age of growing gender equality, however, women still dominate and this is more due to historical circumstances than any other factor. It is worth noting that in nursing, men are facing many of the same obstacles that women in the past had to face when they tried to be physicians, accountants, scientists, managers, professors, college administrators, or even professional athletes. …

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