When Thad Wilson, associate dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing, started nursing school in 1976, he was the only man in the 64-student program.
Then, the nursing field wasn’t exactly welcoming to his gender, Wilson said.
“It was bad,” Wilson said. “I had faculty who told me there should be no men in nursing. The image (that men shouldn’t be nurses) was still rough to overcome.”
Today, the nursing profession is seeing a continued rise in the number of men entering the field.
According to the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, only 5.9 percent of nurses registered before 2001 were men; between 2001 and 2008, that number rose to more than 9 percent.
The stigma that nursing is only a woman’s career is decreasing in the field as enrollment numbers in nursing schools rise, said Debbie Ford, associate dean of student affairs at the Kansas University School of Nursing. While the most recent incoming class’s number of men at KU is down — about 5 percent — it’s been fluctuating for the last couple of years at about 12 percent, she said.
Those figures are consistent with other area nursing schools, such as those at Washburn University in Topeka and Baker University in Baldwin City, according to school representatives.
More men are turning to nursing, Ford said, because it’s a growing, in-demand profession featuring competitive salaries.
For Morteza Rabii, a KU nursing student who’ll graduate in May, the pragmatic aspects of a nursing career were secondary to his decision to enter the field. He heard positive things about helping others from his mother, who is a nurse, and when volunteering at Lawrence Memorial Hospital when he was in high school.
“It allows you the time to spend with a patient and heal them,” Rabii said. “It’s one of the more rewarding things someone can do.”
Wilson, who is the local chapter president of the American Association of Men in Nursing, said that while they still have a ways to go, young men are catching on that nursing is a viable and valuable career choice.
Wilson speaks at schools about nursing and said he “still gets the snickers in middle schools” when he presents nursing as a field for both genders. At the high school level, though, male students seem to recognize nursing as an option.
An increase in men in nursing is a positive for the medical field, said Steve Peterson, a 2002 Baker University nursing graduate who now works at Stormont-Vail in Topeka. It diversifies the health care profession and breaks down other gender stereotypes.
“People see that guys care,” said Peterson, who expects the number of men in nursing to increase. “The more guys get involved, it’s a snowball effect.”