What does a former executive director of Planned Parenthood who researched invasive plant species for his master's degree in biology have in common with a former carpenter and part-time musician who built movie sets in the Bell Island mine tunnels, and played bass in The Kremlin (the band, not the Russian seat of government!)?
Well, besides their gender, and a variety of life interesting experiences, Costa Kasimos and Steve Pike are both students in the Bachelor of Nursing (BN) program at Memorial University's School of Nursing.
The two are among the oldest in their respective classes. Mr. Pike has just finished second year in the four-year regular stream, while Mr. Kasimos is nearing the end of the first-year, fast-track option; both lend a certain...je ne c'est quoi to the classroom environment.
"I always get comments about how nice it is to have guys in the class," said Mr. Pike, who's also the new president of the Nursing Society.
It's quite an about-face after spending a decade in carpentry and construction, and making music on the side. "And I often have patients who say how nice it is to see men coming into the field. I think having a mixed perspective in any field is good."
"I find that mixed ages is more relevant than mixed gender," said Mr. Kasimos, asked if he thinks there's a stigma that goes with being male in a female-dominated profession. "I'm about the second oldest in my class and a mixed age perspective is good. It really helps because all different life experiences are valuable."
"A caregiver is a caregiver and a patient is a patient and I think that's how the patients look at it too," added Mr. Pike.
But outside the hospital, and the School of Nursing, the two are still occasionally subjected to a little good-natured tormenting from friends.
Mr. Pike laughs while recounting some of the taunting: "How's male nursing school going?" or "What's it like studying to be a male nurse?" are typical comments.
For Mr. Kasimos, who traces his interest in nursing back to time spent as a respite care worker when he was an undergraduate science student, most people ask why he didn't pursue medicine. Why nursing?
"I tell them that I like the patient interaction. You spend more time with the patients and care for them in a more holistic way.
"I had great opportunities to work with nurses and doctors during my time at Planned Parenthood, and my understanding of what nurses do really broadened," he said. "I had the chance to work with nurses involved in the addiction outreach program, with nurse practitioners and nurse consultants, and with nurses on the cervical screening initiative. I came to realize that nursing is something I wanted to purse, and I went for it! It's really been the best thing."
Mr. Pike offers similar comments about his decision to enter the nursing program. He grew up with a mom who practices psychiatry at The Janeway Children's Hospital, and always had an interest in health care. He's also worked a personal care assistant (PCA) at a long-term care facility in the city, and really enjoys the patient interaction.
"Going into nursing really made sense to me," he said. "There are so many different facets to nursing. It opens up a variety of areas, and it's so portable.
"My family was thrilled with my decision to pursue nursing," he added. "There's a lot more security in health care than working in construction."
Not to mention the lessened risk of being rushed to hospital because you've fallen off a roof or from scaffolding.
Both men are interested in learning about all areas in nursing. "I'm not sure where I'll focus. I want to try it all," said Mr. Kasimos
The number of male students entering regular four-year and fast-track options of the SON's BN program is holding steady, with a total of 13 first years enrolled in 2013. It's a small increase compared to previous years.
And the numbers here are reflective of what's happening in other parts of the country, says Dr. Robert Meadus, the SON's associate dean of undergraduate programs.