IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Dads Got This: ‘Nurse Papa’ switched careers after realizing taking care of kids fed his soul

David Metzger found his calling as a nurse after falling out of love with his first career as a professional sculptor.
/ Source: TODAY

Before becoming a pediatric oncology nurse, David Metzger was a professional sculptor. As an artist, however, he felt like he needed to do something more fulfilling in his life.

Metzger, known as "Nurse Papa," now works at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco and recalls the first time he knew he had made the right career move.

“With my first pediatric patient in that first hour of that clinical rotation, I ended up taking care of a little girl who didn’t have any parents at the bedside, and she was crying,” Metzger told TODAY’s Craig Melvin for his digital series, "Dads Got This!"

“So I just picked her up and started singing to her.”

“I realized that she was just afraid,” he continued. “And I had this, like, moment of clarity where I was like, ‘Oh, I can be a pediatric nurse and it’s something I can be really good at.’”

The number of male nurses has been on the rise over the last 50 years. According to labor statistics, 12% of registered nurses are men.

Since becoming a full-time nurse, Metzger has also become a father of two, as well as a published author. Last year he released his debut book, “Nurse Papa: 16 Meditations on Parenthood from a Pediatric Oncology Nurse.”

He said he began penning the book on his phone after realizing during his shifts that “there are so many ways to be a caregiver and there’s so many ways to be taken care of.”

Metzger at UCSF Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.
David Metzger works as a pediatric oncology nurse at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco

“I felt it was really important that people had access to these rarefied situations where there’s so much drama and there’s so much pain and joy, and it’s all there together,” he explained of the inspiration for “Nurse Papa.” “Sometimes these things are unresolved and sometimes people are hurt. But we all keep growing.”

Metzger’s children are old enough to understand his profession. “They see me come home in scrubs,” he said, adding that his daughter “is really interested in my patients and what I do.”

“She’s always, ‘Papa, tell me about the hospital. Tell me what you did today?’” he added. “And you know that gets tricky sometimes ‘cause sometimes it’s hard to tell these stories.”

However, Metzger believes being honest with children and following their lead about what they want to know prepares them “to be humane, compassionate people.” 

Outside of his hospital shifts, Metzger continues to help parents with his “Nurse Papa” podcast, where he also answers questions in his “Dear Nurse Papa” segment.

“What I really want to do is to normalize the experience of being a parent,” he said. “It is not easy. I have made so many mistakes. I think this morning I’ve made a thousand mistakes with my kids already.”

He added, “I think that if you are aware of your mistakes, and that you acknowledge them, that means that you’re doing an OK job.”

After 15 years of taking care of children, Metzger gives a nod to his artist days with his “most prized possession” — a colorful stethoscope decorated with wristbands that patients have given to him over the years.

Metzger calls his colorful stethoscope his “most prized possession."
Metzger calls his colorful stethoscope his “most prized possession." TODAY

“Some of these kids are living, some are not,” he said. “But it’s just been a way to remember them.”

As for how he copes with sadness and loss without taking those emotions home, Metzger candidly confessed that it's not always easy.

“You do,” he replied with a soft laugh. “I mean, it’s just part of it …The opportunity to be there at bedside with these children, even when they’re sick, even when they’re dying, has been, like, the greatest gift that I have ever been given because it’s really shown me what life is all about.” 

Related video: