Does the pantheon of civil rights pioneers have room for an earnest, pasty-faced nurse who wants to work hard and save lives? Will MLK, the Woman Suffragettes, and the Stonewall combatants slide over a little and let Bruce Wheatley in?
Two years ago Wheatley changed careers and became a licensed practical nurse with a specialty in women's health, but he can't seem to get a job in the area of obstetrics and gynecology. He claims he's meeting resistance because he's male. "I'm up against stereotyping that men don't belong," insists the 36-year-old nurse, who is married and has two daughters. "In twenty years, this form of discrimination will just be a memory in the same way that black nurses years ago weren't hired to work with white patients." Wheatley has filed three complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging gender discrimination at Broward General Hospital, Parkway Regional Medical Center, and Charter Hospital of Miami. All the complaints are pending.
Wheatley, who ran his own yacht air-conditioning and refrigeration business for a dozen years, expected a battle when he entered the arena of women's health. But he insists he was compelled by a virtuous cause. "Many women are ignorant of their bodies," he states. "Women are terrorized by fear of their bodies, so I really try to educate them."
While he struggles to find a permanent job, Wheatley periodically gets work through Health Force, a national nursing referral service that provides temporary employees to health-care facilities. According to Marcia Martin, branch manager of Health Force of Dade County, he has worked in Jackson Memorial Hospital's obstetrics and gynecology division for several months without a problem. "We've never received a complaint about Bruce," she says, adding that Jackson is generally "more progressive" than other hospitals. "He passed all of our tests, and we have tough screening requirements."
An instructor at the Broward County institute where Wheatley received his nursing license in 1991 also says he can hold his own at a hospital. "Bruce does things the right way," says Arline Savarese of Atlantic Vocational Technical Center. "He has the energy, he has the intelligence. In the area he liked a lot -- maternal health -- he did extremely well. He worked extremely well with nurses and the patients." Savarese, a registered nurse for 36 years, notes that Wheatley's training included work in the obstetrics section of Plantation General Hospital, where no patients or hospital employees complained about his work. "He's very much a women's advocate," she adds.
These commendations, though, haven't helped Wheatley overcome what he considers institutionalized sexism. In 1990, he says, he responded to a job advertisement for ob/gyn nurses at Broward General Hospital. While two female nurses with experience equal to Wheatley's were offered interviews, he says he was denied the opportunity. After complaining to hospital administrators, he was offered a chance and given a job in September 1991.
But it didn't last. Wheatley says he was mostly assigned to work with babies in the nursery, even though he had been hired to work with patients in the postpartum ward. In addition, he claims a female supervisor harassed him daily by frequently changing his schedule, by singling him out for performance reviews, and by writing allegedly erroneous critiques of his work. Four months after he was hired, Wheatley got the ax. He filed his first EEOC complaint against the hospital several months later.
Broward General administrators refuse to comment about the case, but spokesman Chuck Malkus insists the hospital is an equal-opportunity employer and doesn't discriminate on the basis of age, sex, religion, or national origin. He also denies Wheatley's charge that the hospital has a policy A written or unwritten A forbidding male nurses from working in ob/gyn. Still, as of last week, the hospital didn't employ any male nurses in ob/gyn, a situation Malkus blames on a lack of interest, not hospital standards.
At Parkway Regional Medical Center in North Miami Beach, Wheatley says he again was denied an interview in response to a job application. And again he complained to top administrators, who then granted him one. But this time he didn't get a job. Since this past August, Wheatley says he has applied unsuccessfully for four advertised hospital positions at Parkway. "He has not met the criteria yet for what we're looking for," remarks Parkway spokeswoman Lisa Apau, adding that the hospital doesn't discriminate in its hiring practices. Wheatley filed an EEOC complaint against Parkway this past October.
The frustrated nurse's third EEOC complaint stems from similar circumstances at Charter Hospital, a psychiatric facility in West Dade. He applied for a job in the women's unit. Wheatley says that during an interview with the personnel director, Charter's clinical director joined the discussion and informed the nurse that the hospital didn't hire males to work in the women's unit. Herbert Ricardo, Charter's human resources director, denies such a policy exists but refuses to comment on the Wheatley matter. The EEOC received the nurse's third complaint this past month.
"I don't know why he's getting so much grief," comments Wheatley's former instructor, Arline Savarese. "I think he's running into the nurses of the old guard. Obstetrics is probably the last wall that needs to be straddled, it's the last area where they don't feel male nurses belong. But the male nurse is here to stay.
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