Q&A with ICU nurse Luke Yokota

Luke Yokota

Queensland registered nurse Luke Yokota works in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane.

He spearheads a national Men in Nursing awareness campaign, aiming to highlight the value of nursing as a career path for men and inspire more to enter the profession.

Luke shares his nursing journey with the ANMJ.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

My original calling into nursing didn’t start at an early age. I actually first wanted to be a civil engineer. My childhood aspiration of being an engineer came from my love of building, angles and drawing.

As I progressed through my schooling, I started to see small glimpses of what nurses did and represented and I began to hear from friends and family of their experiences meeting nurses.

I didn’t know what nurses did, but I knew they supported people, and are with people in both the hardest and most joyful moments of their lives.

To me, this was really powerful, and I started to explore the possibility of a career in nursing. The more I looked into it, the more I could see it as a lifelong career, and I haven’t looked back since.

Men make up just 10% of the workforce. What was the reaction from people when you told them you wanted to pursue the profession?

Generally, everyone was very supportive when I told them that I wanted to study nursing. However, within the family, I did meet some resistance from my grandfather.

When I told him that I wanted to be a nurse, he laughed in my face. That was a bit confronting at the time; however, with the support of other friends and family, I knew that it was worth pursuing a career that I wanted to do.

My thoughts around my grandfather’s response were that it was a generational perspective on nursing.

Generally, nursing has been seen as a female orientated role; however, in modern times, that has changed significantly.

Nursing is a highly-skilled, intricate profession that requires the best people to care for our most vulnerable in our society.

What did you learn most about nursing during the transition from university to starting out your career?

I learnt how diverse the nursing profession is. You could begin your career in a hospital setting and then move into a policy role within years if you wanted to. Honestly, I’m still discovering all the different roles nurses can do. There will be no need to jump from one career to the next if you find one aspect of nursing more interesting, you can simply apply for that area.

I love this aspect of nursing; that it can be so diverse. It allows an individual to really play to their strengths and work in an area they know they will really make an impact, whether that be primary health, acute hospital settings, research or health technology, just to name but a few.

What does a typical day look like working on the ICU ward?

It can vary quite a lot. As I work in a large tertiary ICU in Brisbane, there is usually a nurse-to-patient ratio of one-to-one due to the level acuity.

I often look after patients that are critically ill requiring life support and timely attention to their health needs.

The ICU I work in has a broad range of specialities and every day is different. Normally, when I come onto a shift I’m checking all my patients’ vital signs are within normal parameters, that the ventilator is set correctly, and I perform a thorough head to toe assessment.

Additionally, you can manage dialysis machines, cardiac pacing wires and neuroprotective devices.

What I enjoy the most about working in ICU is the variety because you are a little bit of a jack of all trades.

You can look after a patient with a cardiac condition one day and on the next look after someone with end-stage renal disease.

You don’t always see that variety of patients in other parts of the hospital.

The patients in ICU are very unwell and you have to think quickly on your feet and know your resources really well.

Nearly all your nursing care is time-sensitive, and even small delays can have a lasting impact on your patient.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the way you work and how has the pandemic impacted you professionally and personally?

Being a nurse who works directly with COVID-19 patients has been very confronting.

Our practice has dramatically changed since the pandemic began.

Around March, when we started to see patients in Queensland become quite unwell from COVID-19, it was confronting because we didn’t know precisely what the disease was and there was a lot of mixed information circulating globally.

Our personal protective equipment (PPE) dramatically increased, and we had nurses coming around doing information sessions by the bedside to educate us on the appropriate donning and doffing.

We practised how to fit N95 masks and sequences of removing our PPE so we would not contaminate ourselves.

To be honest, that part of the year almost seems like a blur because of the amount of activity that was occurring at the time to prepare us.

We were having daily meetings (via online platforms), non-ICU staff were being orientated for the possible expansion of ICU beds, and we were training nurses from other parts of the hospital to potentially assist us in ICU.

It was a hectic time, however, overall, I think we prepared really well and our team forged a sense of unity and willingness to get through it together.

We are not out of the woods yet, it still seems like this year may have a little more turbulence to come.

Our unit has implemented a lot of supportive resources for us, such as temporary employee support workers who are conducting resilience sessions and private counselling if requested.

Of course, I do not want to contract COVID-19, but if there is no one to look after the people who do contract the virus or indeed need critical care, then who will?

Even though these are uncertain times, I think it is important to keep a level head, practice the precautions recommended by health authorities and stay compassionate as some people are really doing it tough at the moment.

You spearheaded a national Men in Nursing campaign. How did it evolve and what impact is it making?

During the 2018 Australian College of Nursing (ACN) National Nursing Forum, I shared why it is important to be supportive of men wanting to enter the nursing profession with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and over 500 delegates during a question and answer session.

I shared my experiences of being a man in nursing and the barriers I faced when considering a career in the profession.

I argued that if any man is deterred from pursuing a career as a nurse, then we have failed as a community.

My key message from that day was “it’s ok for men to care”, which led to the hashtag #itsoktocare being created and embraced by the audience on the day.

This initiated the start of the ACN Men in Nursing Campaign and Men in Nursing Working Party to highlight the value of nursing as a career path for men, raising awareness of the issues facing men in our profession and supporting those wishing to undertake a career in nursing.

We published an e-book last year which presents a powerful collection of stories from 28 men outlining their experiences as nurses, including a rugby player, a male from the corporate world, and someone who became inspired to enter nursing after having cared for a sick sibling.

I believe it has made a huge impact in the last year and I have personally received messages from men appreciating the stories told in the e-book and letting me know that they intend to start studying nursing in the near future.

What key barriers still remain that prevent more men entering nursing?

Some of the key barriers and stereotypes that prevent men from considering a career in nursing include:

  • People subscribing to the stereotypical image of a tough, stoic man limiting his personal expression of care and vulnerability, instead of acknowledging it requires an immensely strong character to work as a nurse and showing care and compassion can sometimes be one of the hardest things to do.
  • The traditional female-orientated perception of nursing, instead of seeing nursing as a career full of opportunities and diverse career pathways.
  • Minimal public awareness campaigns of what a man in nursing looks like and how men working as nurses should be a normal thing.

Have you experienced stigma in the workplace as a result of gender?

I don’t get much stigma at work but every now and again I get the comment that I would make a really great doctor, from patients and colleagues.

I think the comment is meant well but we need to change the perception that people who are bright and work in health don’t necessarily have to be doctors.

We need exceptional people in all the health disciplines, if that be nursing, medicine or allied health.

I feel it is important to remember that nursing is very different to medicine, with both having their own rewards depending on your values as a person. But I simply reply that I love being a nurse.

Overall, I do believe once men enter the profession there is a little stigma from colleagues and maybe a little bit of surprise from some members of the public, however, that often converts to appreciation quite fast once they see both men and women can provide exceptional nursing care.

The real barriers and stigmas still remain in the public perceptions and can often be a barrier to men entering the profession, especially if no other males in their immediate family or friend circles, have worked as a nurse before.

What do you love most about nursing?

I love how personable you can be as a nurse, come in on your shift as complete strangers with your patients and when you finish your shift you have become a person who has made a huge difference in their life.

This is achieved on how interactive a role of a nurse is to people and through the many diverse roles a nurse can do.

Never do I find a day boring, each person is different and each person’s needs are different. Being a nurse that can discern those differences and make it a personal and human experience for people makes all the difference to your patients.

What does the road ahead look like in your nursing career and what are your goals for the Men in Nursing campaign?

The road ahead for the Men in Nursing campaign involves further engaging men from more areas of society, including school-age and mid-career changers and supporting the retention of men within the profession.

We’re looking at developing specific tools that can help employers, education providers and young adults get a very clear and precise picture of what nursing is. This will enable them to make an informed decision if they wish to pursue a career in nursing or not. I’ve heard many stories of men who had the idea of studying nursing when they were younger but instead thought it was not a man’s role and went off and did another profession for 10 or so years.

Later, they found themselves wanting more and decided ‘I want to study nursing’. We want to capture that audience or even possibly the audience that never thought they could be a nurse but would make an outstanding one.

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