Profiles in Nursing

Randolph Rasch and His Path of Firsts

Advocate for continued education

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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He has a whole list of “firsts” to his name. But being the first black male nurse to graduate from the nursing program at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., the first African-American male public health nurse in Michigan, the first male African–American to achieve an MSN at Vanderbilt University (1979) and the first black male Ph.D. in nursing (University of Texas, 1988) were not Randolph Rasch’s original goals.  Instead, though acknowledging the roadblocks, he has always been a person to pursue his interests regardless of what others thought. It came almost as a surprise that he was any kind of “first” at all.Randy Rasch, nurse, continued education, first black

He had first thought of becoming a doctor: nursing was just a stepping-stone. But when he saw what nursing was, and could be, Rasch stuck with it.

Now he directs the family nurse practitioner program at Vanderbilt University and teaches nurses what the discipline is and how it grounds clinical practice. He is very clear: The ability to diagnose and treat is a technical skill that then enables nurses to practice nursing, namely caring for the whole patient in whatever way he or she is affected by the disease or level of wellness.

Mr. Rasch is also active in nurse recruiting. He cites research that indicates that the number one factor in determining if someone becomes a nurse is whether he or she knows someone who is a nurse. In that context, people come to appreciate what the profession really is, how diverse it is, and begin to see it as an appealing pursuit.

The same process works in determining which nurses choose to go to graduate school. Candidates know someone who has done it, and so it becomes an achievable goal rather than a feared unknown.

Before moving to Vanderbilt, Mr. Rasch was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he encouraged nurses taking his continuing education courses to look around and consider all the career options in nursing.

His efforts with the Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow, which seeks to persuade nurses to get into education, is part of the same idea. As a spokesperson for the campaign “Nursing Education…Pass It On,” Mr. Rasch believes that if you see an ordinary nurse who becomes a nursing instructor, the whole process becomes something that you yourself consider. Teaching is especially gratifying because through it you have influence, not on just one patient, but all the patients your students may reach. It is an opportunity to have widespread impact.

Although he spends most of his time in clinical practice and teaching, Mr. Rasch is part of a research team that concentrates on HIV/AIDS. He also is interested in nursing informatics and emphasizes that nurses need to be able to understand the latest research developments in order to develop evidence-based practice.

On the subject of men in nursing, Mr. Rasch sees continuing hurdles. Not all discrimination is intentional, but it can nonetheless be isolating. The more diversity within the profession, especially in nursing faculty, the better the profession will be. A broad perspective is essential to the program and, of course, to the individual nurse. Watch where this path of “firsts” leads us.   

Elizabeth Hanink RN, BSN, PHN is a freelance writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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