Herb Zinder remembers when he almost quit nursing school. In 1968 he had been the first man accepted into the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, and the challenges seemed insurmountable at times. Now, some 30 years later, Zinder is returning to Hopkins to watch his son, Matthew, graduate from the School of Nursing. On graduation day, Matthew and his dad will become the School of Nursing's first father/son alums.
"Of course I am thrilled that Matthew is graduating from the School of Nursing," Zinder says. "I had always hoped that one of my children would go into the field."
Herb Zinder now operates Zinder Anesthesia Associates in Lutherville, a successful business that provides nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists to clinics and doctors' offices. "It's my hope that Matt will one day join the business now that he has finished nursing school."
A smile creeps across Herb Zinder's face as he recalls his own days at the School of Nursing. After serving in the Air Force as an anesthesia technician, Zinder knew he wanted to make a career of working with patients and anesthesia, and he thought nursing school was the way to achieve his goal. He remembers walking into the school's Admissions Office and saying, "I want to go to school here at Hopkins.
"I was sort of quizzed," Zinder recalls with a laugh. "I was told that 'we've never had a man at the school. We have a long tradition of females. The women students live at Hampton House. Where will you live? None of our students commute.' " Regardless, Zinder was accepted, thus making history at the School of Nursing. At age 27 and married, he didn't have much in common with his classmates, who were practically 10 years his junior.
"I remember on the first day of school there was an orientation that included a parents' meeting," he says. "My wife went. The School of Nursing didn't quite know how to deal with me, and I didn't really know how to deal with them."
Wardrobe was another issue for Zinder. In those days, nursing students wore dresses. "What will Herb wear?" was the question being asked. The administration finally decided that Zinder would wear white pants with a blue smock and white buck shoes.
"I was one of the only people in all of Hopkins dressed that way," he quips.
The classroom and clinical rotations created other dilemmas. Zinder was never given a female patient during clinical rotations, and he was asked to leave the room when nursing students were shown a film on breast examination. In another class, where essays had to be read aloud, one student wrote about men in nursing, saying she could accept male nurses but wouldn't want her sister to marry one.
Zinder realized these experiences were growing pains, not only for himself but for the School of Nursing. Currently about 10 percent of the school's student population is male, but "at that time it was part of the culture that nursing was a woman's field," he says.
Hard times really started to befall Zinder when his wife became pregnant. "We were so poor. In addition to my studies, I worked every Saturday and Sunday in home nursing care, and every Tuesday night I gave a bath to a six-foot, four-inch, 300-pound stroke patient for 10 bucks."
Feeling very alone and exhausted, Zinder considered quitting school. He spoke with a faculty member, Joan Sutton, about leaving. "She talked with me and helped me decide to stick it out. She saw that my problems were unique, and she was able to address that. I am really grateful for that. In my heart, I didn't want to leave nursing school. There's something in the air at Hopkins that makes you believe you can do whatever you want to do."
Zinder knew there had to be a way to deal with some of his money problems. While on a clinical rotation on a pediatric unit, he noticed that Hopkins used Similac for its infant patients. In what is Zinder's typical entrepreneurial spirit, he called the company and told them he was a student at Johns Hopkins thinking of going into pediatrics. He also told them that his wife was about to give birth, and if they ever gave out samples, he would gladly be a recipient. Three days later, a truck pulled up in front of his house with 40 cases of Similac.
Embracing his newfound spirit and commitment, Zinder finished nursing school and graduated in 1971. Even on graduation day, Zinder's gender continued to present a dilemma. It is part of the nursing tradition for new graduates to receive a pin as a symbol of their dedication to the profession. Zinder got a key ring. After graduation, he continued to pursue his dream of becoming a nurse anesthetist. At that time, Hopkins had a school of anesthesia, which is where Zinder became certified. After working in a hospital setting for 11 years, he decided to start his own anesthesia business, which continues to flourish.
"More and more procedures are done in offices, out of the hospital," he explains. "I now have 14 associates."
Zinder hopes his son Matthew will eventually join and make it a family business, and Matt is quite open to the idea. Matthew had originally studied photography but had great difficulty finding adequate work in that field. He often talked to his father about the problem. "One day my dad handed me his business card and told me he would like to see my name on it as well. We talked about the possibilities, and I made some inquiries. What I learned was that there are a lot of career options in the field of nursing, including my dad's business. My dad was as happy as I was when my acceptance letter from Hopkins' School of Nursing arrived in the mail."
After he graduates, Matthew hopes to get a job in Hopkins' surgical intensive care unit. Once he has a few years of clinical experience under his belt, he will enroll in an anesthesia program and then become part of Zinder Anesthesia Associates.
Zinder and his son now "talk shop" on a regular basis. "I am thrilled that we are the school's first father/son alums," says Zinder. "But the important thing is that we both feel we made the right decisions for ourselves. I am proud Matt took some of the same chances I did. The experience has really brought us closer together."