FAIRBANKS (AP) Former paramedic Alan Freytag started his nursing career nine years ago as a way to have a closer relationship with his patients.
''I found that when I would take my people to the emergency room in the ambulance, I wanted to stay with them,'' said Freytag, who works in the intensive care unit at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
Freytag, 46, is among the growing ranks of male nurses in the state and nation. In Alaska, the percentage of male nurses and men enrolled in nursing school programs is above the national average, according to Dr. Tina DeLapp, director of the School of Nursing at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
In 2000, 7.6 percent of working nurses in the state were men compared to 5.4 percent in the nation that year, the latest national figures available. The number of male nurses in Alaska grew to 8.3 percent last year, DeLapp said.
In nursing school, 20 percent of students in Alaska are men. Nationally, men represent 8.3 percent of students in four-year college nursing programs and 16.1 percent in two-year associate programs.
''We're not specifically recruiting men,'' DeLapp said. ''We're recruiting all kinds of people.''
The university wants to double its nursing school graduates by 2006 to meet demand in the state.
DeLapp is not sure why Alaska has so many male nurses and nursing students.
''In some respects, the Alaskan lifestyle the emphasis on hunting and fishing and outdoors might be particularly attractive to males who are also nurses,'' she said.
Nursing is a good field for both men and women because it's a hands-on job with analytical thinking involved, DeLapp said.
''It's a field that lets you use your head, your heart and your hands.''
She said it's only fair that men be accepted into nursing since women have crossed the threshold into parts of medicine formerly closed to them.
Most of the men entering nursing in Alaska try it as a second career, DeLapp said. She knows of a former police officer, an architect and construction workers who are studying to be nurses. Freytag knows a male nurse who was once a salesman and another who drove a Pepsi truck.
The notion that nursing is women's work is ''fading away,'' Freytag said.
''Nursing is becoming unisex,'' he said. ''It's accepted that there's going to be more male nurses.
''We're just happy to see more nurses male or female because of the shortage.''
Don Lee, 26, became a nurse four years ago because of the diverse options. Nurses can specialize in surgery, emergency room and geriatrics, to name a few.
Lee is in the surgical unit and plans to continue his education.
''I plan on getting a master's (degree), becoming a nurse practitioner and hanging out my own shingle, so to speak,'' he said.
Lee said some people are still taken aback by men in nursing.
''You still hear stuff like 'Are you gay?' because you're a nurse,'' he said. ''I don't think people are over the stereotypes completely.''
Robert Emmett, 57, a patient of Lee's in the hospital because of a lung infection, said he had no been treated by many male nurses.
''As long as somebody can perform the duties, it shouldn't make any difference whether they are male or female,'' he said.
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