The first thing most people might notice about Eric Alvarez, RN, SNM, as he listens attentively to a nurse-midwifery lecture, is that he seems to be the only guy in the room.
Historically, there are far fewer men in the nursing profession than women. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12% of working nurses are men. Percentage-wise, just 6% percent of nurse-midwives are men.
That’s a number that Alvarez and midwifery educators would like to increase. Alvarez currently works as a labor and delivery nurse at Denver Health. He enrolled in the University of Colorado College of Nursing’s Nurse-Midwifery Program this year.
“The nursing profession has been long saying we need to diversify our workforce,” Alvarez says. “That means more than color: It also means gender.”
CU College of Nursing Director of Midwifery Services, Jessica Anderson, DNP, CNM, who serves on the American College of Nurse Midwives’ (ACNM) National Board, says the ACNM recognizes the need to diversify the field. She acknowledges there are fewer than 100 male nurse-midwives in the U.S. right now (compared with an estimated 70 in 2005).
Alvarez notes that as the patient population of pregnant people gets more diverse, healthcare providers and midwifery practices also need to diversify their workforces.
“I have had and seen (pregnant) patients who did not identify as women. They are non-binary or they identify as men,” he says. “Unfortunately, there’s still a stereotype that men don’t belong in this field, which makes male nurses like myself feel like they don’t want me there.”
Committed to health equity
Alvarez’s family abruptly moved to Aurora from Florida during his senior year of high school. He essentially scrapped his college plans and “rebooted” his life by enlisting in the Air Force, where he served at Buckley Air Force Base (AFB) in Aurora and Schriever AFB in Colorado Springs.
While in the Air Force, he worked in human resources but gravitated toward nursing, where he felt he could make “a true impact.”
Alvarez earned an RN from the Denver College of Nursing and enrolled in the advanced care partner (ACP) program at UCHealth Hospital. Initially, he was interested in reproductive health but found himself drawn to labor and delivery upon learning about the healthcare disparities among communities of color.
“I was astounded by how bad it was,” he says. “America spends the most on healthcare in the entire world, yet the maternal infant mortality rates are like that of a developing country.”
As time went on, Alvarez was compelled to delve deeper into labor and delivery.
“I felt that labor and delivery was just one side of a multi-sided coin,” he says. “There are so many aspects to it. Just being an RN in labor and delivery wasn’t enough. I was introduced to midwifery through a professor in an undergrad course.”
While Alvarez finds his work at Denver Health fulfilling, he’s troubled by the biases he observes regarding male nurses among patients – and sometimes colleagues.
“In some situations, the physician or OB-GYN is a guy and the anesthesiologist is a guy,” he says. “It’s only the male nurse who is an issue. It’s unfortunate because I truly believe that I am a great nurse.’”
Alvarez insists he will “go to bat on the whole gender thing” because he strongly believes the quality of care provided is more important than the gender of the providers.
“You want someone who supports you through it and be the one who takes care of you and your baby when you deliver your baby,” he says. “Just because you are a woman does not automatically mean you are the best person for someone in labor. It depends on the person’s personality.”
Why he chose CU Nursing
Though he sometimes encounters bias at work, Alvarez says he feels at home among the faculty, staff and students at CU College of Nursing. He shadowed many midwives from CU Nursing during his ACP experience and was impressed by them and their work.
Alvarez says the teaching style and philosophy of Jessica Anderson is also a significant selling point for the program.
“She admits we can’t change the world, but that they are doing everything they can to change the world,” he says. “I just love that mentality.”
Dr. Anderson is one of the leaders behind the Center for Midwifery, an academic midwifery enterprise that was recently designated as an Edge Runner by the American Academy of Nursing.
“As an educator, she’s amazing,” Alvarez says. “I feel like she can be reached at any time for anything. She has very open arms.”
A man of varied interests
In what little spare time he has, Alvarez likes to play video games, watch movies, and listen to podcasts related to maternal health, and social justice.
'Through passion I gain strength. Through strength I gain power.'
Another noticeable attribute about Alvarez: His arms are covered with Star Wars-themed tattoos that exemplify his philosophy of life. They are written in the authentic Star Wars alphabet.
He happily interprets the hieroglyphics to anyone who asks.
“This one says, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ This one says, ‘May the force be with you.’ This one says, ‘Through passion I gain strength. Through strength I gain power.’”