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Male Nursing students, almost 40 years apart, connect during SpartaNation road trip

Ed Bukowski ’81 and Ethan Miller ’20 met at SpartaNation reception in Pittsburgh.
Ed Bukowski ’81 and Ethan Miller '20

What do one of the first male graduates of York College of Pennsylvania’s Nursing program and a potential 2020 male graduate of the program talk about when they meet?

Well, nursing, you’d think.

But the profession was just a small part of their two-hour conversation when 1981 graduate Ed Bukowski and junior Ethan Miller shared a dinner table during a SpartaNation road trip in January, sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations.

Ethan was among about 15 of the College’s leading students in various majors who traveled as the Road Crew to Pittsburgh, one of many destinations where they networked with alumni and engaged with potential college students.

Bukowski, one of just two male students in the College’s first graduating class of the Nursing program, is semi-retired from Highmark and working on a short-term project for the insurer. He responded to an invitation from the alumni office to take part in the event.

As Ethan walked into a Pittsburgh restaurant, prepared to give a speech to the assembled alumni and students, someone pulled him aside and said, “You have to meet this person.”

That person was Bukowski, the only Nursing alumnus at the event.

An instant connection

Ethan walked up to Bukowski’s table, thinking the two wouldn’t have much in common. But what followed was a discussion that Ethan says “flowed better than almost any conversation I’ve had in my life. It was something special. It went so incredibly well.”

Their shared experiences drove the conversation. Both of their fathers had served in the Marines. Bukowski enlisted in the Navy. Ethan had come close to enlisting.  

Perhaps they didn’t dwell on the subject of males in the field of nursing, where women hold about 90 percent of the jobs, because entering the profession felt like such a natural move to both of them.

Ethan’s inspiration came from his grandmother, who was a nurse, and his father. He says his dad instilled in him the idea that he should “help people, do things for your community.”

“I was always kind of around that mindset,” he points out.

As his mother told him, “Don’t look at people at their best. Look at them at their worst, and you can make a difference.”

Ethan, from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, enjoyed science and liked helping people.

“When I realized nursing was that kind of thing, I was kind of hooked on it since my junior year of high school,” he says.

Bukowski, originally from Natrona near Pittsburgh, had joined the Navy in 1971 and was sent to hospital corpsman school. He loved it.

A former fellow corpsman who had enrolled at York College told him about the school’s new nursing program. After four years in the service, Bukowski enrolled.

“It was a perfect fit for me,” he says.

Career advancement

Bukowski says he doesn’t differentiate between males and females in the nursing field. But he did offer Ethan some advice.

“He said, ‘You’re going to make mistakes, but don’t get caught up on it,’” Ethan remembers. “He was saying it for a nursing career, but it was so much more life advice. It was important to hear someone with so many years of wisdom.”

That wisdom comes from Bukowski’s work in an orthopedic, rheumatology, and rehabilitation hospital. He rose to the position of patient care manager in the rehab unit and has worked in home health care and as a care manager for Highmark.

“I just encourage them to do their best, to get involved,” Bukowski says of Nursing students. “Just get out there and do your best and be proud of being a nurse. I think for anybody it just has so many opportunities.”

He believes that, years apart, he and Ethan found a great place to start their nursing careers.

“I think the York College Nursing program is one of the best. I will promote it constantly,” Bukowski says.

Ethan, who is one of five males in his class of 65 students, hopes to work on a medical-surgical floor after graduation to hone his skills and gain background knowledge, something Bukowski says is important for new nurses.

“Right out of school I would like to work on a pediatric floor. I’m doing a pediatric clinical now,” Ethan notes.

But with his minor in Business Administration, he’d like to go further, as Bukowski did.

“I’d like to make legitimate changes in health care,” Ethan says. “If I can make multiple people’s and families’ lives better through administrative actions, I think that’s a great way to go about it, too.”

Learn more about the nursing program at York College.