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Male nurse defies stereotypes

As a male nurse, Robert Connelly admits he’s had his share of embarrassing situations, like the occasional female patient who doesn’t know how to put a hospital johnnie on correctly (the opening is in the back, he adds.) And as a big, strapping 6’2”, 250 lb. man in light blue scrubs, he’s frequently also mistaken for being a doctor.

But Connelly, who is an emergency room nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), is a former EMT and paramedic who became a nurse three years ago when he decided he wanted to ramp up his medical training yet another notch. His wife and three sisters are also nurses.

“I was the only guy in my nursing program, and on the job, I’m almost always outnumbered by 10 females to one,” says Connelly, who is a rarity in a profession where just six percent of nurses are men.

But like many nurses, he was lured to nursing by the salary, steady work, and demand; he says the average nurse can earn between $60,000-$80,000 or more. Employment of registered nurse is expected to grow 23 percent to 2016, fueled in part by a rise in aging baby boomers. And the stereotype that nursing is women’s work? Well, Connelly says, “Men bring something special to the field, and besides, chicks love a guy in uniform.”

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Q: Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How many times a day do you have to wash your hands?
A: Hundreds and hundreds of times. My hands are so red and chaffed from using all the soaps and alcohol. And you have to watch out – there’s a hospital Hand Patrol that walks around and checks to make sure staff are washing their hands like they’re supposed to.

Q: What’s a typical day on the job like in ER?
A: Anyone can walk into the emergency room door, from a patient with minor chest pains to a guy who stabbed himself in the chest. Recently we had a man who fell off the back of a truck and literally split his head open. You could actually reach in and touch his scalp but he lay there, just talking to us as plain as day.

Q: In situations like this, is it hard to keep an emotional distance?

A: I’m in awe of the skill and training of the medical team when you see the efficiency and speed with which they work. I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t like anatomy and physiology and all the other pieces to it. In this case, I stood by as the neurosurgeon operated, drilling through the skull, putting in a drainage for bleeding in the brain. I was amazed, as always, at what modern medicine can do.

Q: You work long hours, 3 p.m.-3 a.m. Is it tough to unwind when you come home so early in the morning?
A: I watch a lot of late night TV, old dumb movies, or I’ll work out, and ride the bike in the basement. And I’ll bake, all sorts of pastries, like cookies, brownies, cake, or blueberry buckles, and bring those to work to share with the other nurses.

Q: What was one misconception about nursing that you had before you started?
A: I thought I’d get to wear one of those white nursing caps. Boy, was I disappointed. Of course, I’m only kidding … I can even wear my Patriots shirt to work, with scrub pants ... Nursing has come a long way in that regard.


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