LUCASVILLE, Ohio—Before the scalpels, the forceps, and the surgical needles, Tom Jones knew steel. He was a quality technician in the fabrication shop at a handful of mills, most recently at AK Steel, where he worked in this economically depressed region of southern Ohio until his employer laid off more than 600 people.
Casting about for a way to support his wife and two children, Jones decided to go back to school. He considered becoming a welder or an electrician, but wanted something different, more stable. So he settled on a program at the nearby Scioto County Career Technical Center that would train him to be a surgical technologist, someone who assists doctors during surgery.
“I read all this stuff that said the medical field is the only one that’s not laying people off,” Jones said, explaining his choice. I met him while he sat in school, one of two men in a classroom full of women, where he was wearing blue scrubs and a camouflage baseball cap. He said it was a little strange to be among so many women, but it was something he felt he had to do. He said, “It comes to a point where, most of the people like I know like me, you go, you get a job and support your family.”
Many men in parts of the Midwest have flailed as manufacturing jobs have disappeared, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A growing group of men are deciding that to work and support their families, they have to embrace new fields, such as health care. More younger men are entering nursing, one of the most gendered professions there is, than once did. According to data provided by the American Nurses Association, men make up 6.2 percent of nurses licensed before 2000, but 9.6 percent of nurses licensed in 2000 or later. (That number still seems small, but change takes time; the share of medical degrees earned by women, for example, increased from 5 percent in 1952 to 48 percent in 2011.)