When David Vlahov, RN, PhD, received his nursing degree in 1983, he joined the 2% of men who were working as nurses.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of male RNs increased to 8.1% in 2011. While the rise has been slow and steady, Vlahov said he hopes to see that number increase significantly in the coming years.
In April 2011, Vlahov made history when he was named the first male dean of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. Two years into his tenure, Vlahov said he hopes to double the number of men enrolled in the UCSF nursing program over the next five years.
“It’s a great career field with low unemployment, good job security and wages, and the opportunity to go into a number of specialty areas,” Vlahov said.
Realizing that many men still believe that nursing is women’s work and may be reluctant to enter a female-dominated field, Vlahov said he encourages male students and nurses to speak at high schools and colleges to show that nursing is a viable career option for men.
“Nursing is not a woman’s profession, it’s a people’s profession,” he said, citing the 2010 Institute of Medicine report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, that states men bring unique skills and perspectives to the profession, such as life experiences, masculine communication styles and the simple fact that they “look like” half the patient population.
Vlahov decided to become a nurse while in high school. “I worked at a Boy Scout camp that had a medical dispensary run by a male nurse,” he said. “It was my first exposure to nursing and he was a good role model.”
Vlahov went on to receive his BSN degree at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore and began working at the bedside before transitioning to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before joining UCSF, he worked at the New York Academy of Medicine in New York City, where he served as director of its Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies and senior vice president for research. He also was professor of clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City and adjunct professor in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
“I went from the bedside to the community to the city to my present job here at the university,” Vlahov said. “While I do miss the one-on-one patient contact, I am fortunate to work with a strong group of students and faculty at UCSF.”
Vlahov also said he would like to see more men join the ranks of nursing academia. Men account for only 5% of full-time faculty teaching at baccalaureate and higher degree schools of nursing, and 4.5% of the nation’s 838 nursing school deans are men, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
“We have a group at the UCSF nursing school called Diversity in Action (DIVA) composed of faculty members who ensure that diversity is embedded in every aspect of the school, from forming diverse research teams, to teaching future faculty to engaging in issues of diversity,” Vlahov said.
Vlahov notes that other schools have examined the work being done by UCSF’s DIVA in an effort to emulate the program at their own nursing schools. Vlahov also encourages male nursing students to become active with the American Assembly of Men in Nursing, a national organization that hopes to boost men’s numbers in nursing to 20% of all students enrolled in nursing program by 2020.
“I encourage all male nurses to become involved in outreach efforts,” Vlahov said. “Go beyond just attending nursing meetings and attend career day events at high schools and colleges in your community. All of the women nurses I’ve met welcome equal gender representation in the field. And outreach works — I’ve already recruited my son and nephew to pursue careers in nursing.”