Is it becoming cooler to be a male nurse?

(Capitol Gazette) Thomas Conti still hears the cracks about his future profession. “Wait. You’re going to be a male nurse?’

But the 20-year-old nursing student at Anne Arundel Community College smiles as if he has discovered a well-kept secret.

“Those people don’t understand what’s involved in nursing,” said Conti, who aspires to become a trauma nurse. “If they did, they wouldn’t have a problem with men going into it.”

Besides, he quipped, “The women treat us well here.”

Conti is among a still relatively small but growing cohort of men entering the nursing field across the country. And he expects more men to join him as they realize the opportunities and job security in a field plagued by shortages.

Male nurses have not always been so accepted.

According to a recently released U.S. Census Bureau study of men in nursing, male nurses, often associated with the military and religious orders, were common in the 1800s. But their numbers began to decline in the 1900s.

The reason: Laws prohibited some men from entering the profession, and some nursing schools refused to admit men.

In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed prohibitions against males entering nursing schools unconstitutional.

According to the Census study, the share of the profession’s workforce held by male registered nurses grew from 2.7 percent in 1970 to 9.6 percent in 2011.

That trend is evident at AACC, where the number of male nursing students has been going up, said nursing professor Kathy Jo Keever.

In 2000, only 5 percent of the nursing class was made up of men. But that had jumped to 11 percent – 27 students – in 2008. Since then, the share has been hovering around 7 percent of the class, or 20 students.

“It used to be only one or two per class was men. Now it’s always around eight to 10,” Keever said.

The economy may have helped push men into the profession. The U.S. Department of Labor says nurses Maryland have mean a salary of $75,490 in Maryland.

First-year nursing student Matt Baden, 23, of Annapolis, said he was a pre-med student interning with an orthopedic surgeon and was in an operating room when he had an epiphany: Many of those in the room, from the anesthetist to the assistants, were different varieties of nurse.

“There were all these other opportunities to do surgery without having to go to medical school for four or five more years and then having to do a residency,” Baden said.

After receiving his biochemistry degree at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, he enrolled in the nursing program – a decision he has never regretted.

“I could’ve gotten a $50,000-a-year biochemist job by now,” Baden said. “Instead I’m doing a $20,000-a-year tech job because I knew I wanted to go back to school and do this now.”

Classmate and Glen Burnie resident Jason Choi, 33, earned his business degree in his home country of South Korea years ago.

“I hated my job,” he said. After moving to the U.S. to join a sister who already lived in the area, he realized he wanted to pursue health care in a field in which he could help people.

“In my country, I’ve never seen a male nurse. That’s a female job,” Choi said. “But here, people are more open-minded.”

Still men are not welcomed with open arms by patients in some nursing settings. Keever has noticed that in labor and delivery, the partners of some women protest having a male nurse.

Vanessa Lovato, director of nursing education at Frederick Community College, said that despite the growing number of male nurses, a few stereotypes persist: that they’re homosexual, or interested only in making money, or picked for their strength.

“But as we see more male nurses, I think the stereotypes are going away,” Lovato said.