University of Wisconsin senior Ben Howell-Little is part of an increasing trend: He is a male nursing student.

Howell-Little chose to join the profession because he wanted to dedicate his time to patients.

“It would have been nice to know and hear from other male nurses that the stigmatization is over-hyped,” Howell-Little said. “Hearing from someone like me that they haven’t had any bad experiences would have made me more likely to pursue this profession.”

Despite a lingering social stigma for men in nursing, Ben Howell-Little, said he has had a generally positive experience and that nursing is increasingly seen as an option for men.

It seems awareness is increasing among men that nursing is no longer a profession restricted to females, he said.

The trend is reflected in UW School of Nursing’s demographics. The nursing school saw a 6 percent increase in male applicants this year.

For the upcoming fall term, 17 percent of applicants were men, which is an increase from 11 percent last year, Karen Mittelstadt, director of admissions and advising for the School of Nursing said.

“Some of the social stigmas with men in nursing have disappeared since the 1970s and the percentage of male nurses has gone up and so has the total number of applicants,” Mittelstadt said.

Aside from some initial concerns about the social stigma of men in the nursing profession, Howell-Little said he has only experienced two instances when a patient requested a female nurse.

The nursing school, however, does not set specific goals or percentages for enrollment of minority students in a given semester, Mittelstadt said.

Setting goals can be a good way to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups, Judi Hansen, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Nursing, said.

“If there aren’t benchmarks, if you don’t set the goals, then you don’t have something set you are working toward,” Hansen said.

Hansen said when schools and organizations set goals and assess the workforce, they are better positioned to make an impact on diversity of enrollment. She said UW-Oshkosh is researching this benchmark setting approach and has already developed a diversity assessment tool for the workforce.

The Wisconsin Center for Nursing is a small non-profit that reviews nursing workforce data to analyze the direction in which the workforce is going, Hansen said. Unlike the higher percentages at UW-Madison, male nurses make up only 6.9 percent of nurses throughout Wisconsin, a percentage that has hovered in the same place for several years, Hansen said.

But when discussing diversity in the workforce, Hansen said one must also consider other underrepresented groups. She said around 95 percent of nurses are white, 1.8 percent African-American, 1.6 percent Hispanic, 1.4 percent Asian and 1.6 percent other.

“In other words, we don’t mirror the population we serve,” Hansen said.

Hansen said a more diverse workforce leads to better outcomes for patients as they are not only provided with more diverse treatment regimens, but also report a higher customer satisfaction.

“There is no doubt having a more diverse workforce will improve patient outcomes, giving us a healthy population and a healthier society,” Hansen said.