Rick Howard began his working career as a firefighter.

But, after becoming certified as an emergency medical technician, he found he enjoyed saving people more than saving buildings.Allen Davies had planned to be a policeman, but a job as an orderly at McKay-Dee Hospital changed his mind.

Burdell Merrell had hopes of becoming a doctor after graduating from high school. Family finances prevented a lengthy, expensive medical school education, and Merrell studied political science instead. He spent 23 years with the CIA - developing, training and recruiting agents and spies and finding people with information the U.S. government wanted and getting it. After retiring in 1980, he found that early interest in medicine still haunted him.

And so, like Howard and Davies, Merrell pursued that interest by becoming a nurse.

These men, like an increasing number of other men, have found a career in nursing provided them with the opportunity to combine an interest in medicine with an interest in people.

"Very few male nurses grow up as a boy saying, `I want to be a nurse when I grow up,' " said Guy Thompson, director of nursing at Mountain View Hospital in Payson. "Most have had an experience with the medical field somewhere else. I went into it because I liked medicine but didn't have the time or inclination to go to medical school. And I was attracted by the people aspect of nursing."

As a career, nursing provides a diversity and mobility that is found in few other professions. Nurses are needed everywhere from California to Hong Kong, in facilities that range from industrial plants to medical centers, at every level and in every area of the health profession. And with the recent push to combat shortage of nurses by raising the profession's prestige through career ladders, better pay and attractive recruiting packages, it is a good time for men - and women - to get into nursing.

"I have all the advantages of being a doctor, plus I get to be a nurse," said Dale Anderton, a nurse practitioner at American Fork Hospital. "I get to invest time with people and see the transition from sick to well, from acute critical to stable condition. It's more hands on than medicine."

Working in a profession dominated by women has its advantages, according to some of the nurses.

"We have an advantage as some-what of an oddity," Thompson said. "People learn your name faster, notice your face more. And in our society, people tend to think men are managers."

In fact, many men gravitate to managerial positions in areas such as administration and emergency centers.

And some admit that male doctors, for better or worse, seem to relate to them more easily.

"I think physicians have an opposite bias," Anderton said. "Doctors respect us more as colleagues just because we are male."

Russell Wilshaw, American Fork, who has been a nurse for 14 years, said he has found that doctors trust his judgment and allow him more autonomy than they do female nurses.

But there are disadvantages as well - misperception on the part of patients, for example.

"There is not a perception in our society that men can be nurses," Thompson said. "We tend to (regard nursing ability) as a female attribute, but I think it is a humanistic attribute. Men can be just as supportive, nurturing and just as caring as women."

Many patients assume the men are doctors, even to the point of refusing to believe them when they insist they are nurses or assuming they are failures because they did not go on to become doctors.

Another disadvantage is the lack of role models for men.