National Nurses Week, May 6-12— Male Student Nurse Finds Career Choice Idea

Nurses work in hospitals, schools, clinics, shelters and offices. They serve as educators, researchers and practitioners, providing care and compassion to people in need of assistance. National Nurses Week is an annual event founded by the American Nurses Association in order to celebrate nurses and all that they do.

President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation in 1982 designating National Nurses Day on May 6. This was followed by the designation of May 6-12 to be honored annually as National Nurses Week by the board of directors of the American Nurses Association, beginning in 1994, and in 1997 that same board designated May 8 as National Student Nurses Day.

A recipient of the 2010 Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Scholar-Athlete Award when he was a senior at Newtown High School, Kyle O’Connor is pursuing a career in a field far removed from the athletic field: nursing. National Nurses Week is celebrated May 6-12, and May 8 is designated as National Student Nurses Day. —Bee file photo

Newtown High School 2010 graduate Kyle O'Connor is currently a student nurse, studying at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. A former high school varsity football player (and captain his senior year), swim team co-captain, and lacrosse co-captain, he said that his choice of careers came as a surprise to many of his high school friends.

"My senior year of high school, I still wasn't sure about what I wanted to do," said Kyle. "I didn't have a favorite subject; I liked them all. But I kept going back to my experiences as a lifeguard, learning CPR, first aid, and learning to use the AED [Automated External Defibrillator]. I liked the technical aspect of lifeguarding, but it's really about the people connection. I decided I didn't want a desk job," he said.

"Teasing? Of course! People bombarded me with, 'Why nursing? Why aren't you going to be a doctor?' The sports I was in are very different from going into a profession that is primarily female. But I don't want to be a doctor," said Kyle. "I want to be a nurse, and maybe ultimately, a nurse practitioner," said the college sophomore.

A lifeguard since his sophomore year in high school, Kyle found that the hands-on piece of lifeguarding and the one-on-one connection to people was a big draw for him.

"I take enjoyment in helping others to feel better and to feel safe," said Kyle.

As one of only slightly more than a dozen men in a class of 100 students at the UPenn School of Nursing, he said, he continues to take his share of ribbing. Nursing is still considered by many to be a female career.

"The guys call me 'Fokker' (a reference to the 2000 feature film Meet The Parents , in which Ben Stiller's character is a male nurse) and another favorite, 'Murse' — male nurse," laughed Kyle. "I think it's more funny than anything. I embrace it. You have to have a strong sense of self in an atypical professional choice."

He is not immersed in an all-girl world, though, said Kyle. Belonging to a fraternity offsets the time spent in mostly all-women classes.

"When I've had enough of the girl time, I can go back to the frat and have plenty of guy time. And when I've had enough of the guys…"

His choice was not without some trepidation, though, he admitted.

"Even during my freshman year at UPenn, I doubted my choice. But I stuck with it. Then I started clinicals the beginning of sophomore year, and I just love it.

"Going through clinicals, I really appreciate what I learned during that classroom time. And I love being with the patients and actually doing things to help them," said Kyle.

There are advantages to being a man in a woman's world, said Kyle.

"I don't know any hard statistics, but what I gather from talking to others is that it could be beneficial to be a male nurse, in that maybe there are better options for particular nursing situations. It could be to my advantage in areas where a lot of lifting is required, if I am stronger," he said.

Not all patients are receptive to male nurses, he has learned. At the Philadelphia nursing home where he did his clinicals this past semester, some female patients expressed discomfort at the idea of a male nurse attending to their needs.

"Others had no problem, though," said Kyle. "I think they were just used to seeing a woman in that role."

"My impression of the nursing profession is that it is the number one trusted and respected profession. My experience in seeing what the RNs [registered nurses] do is that the are incredibly competent. Nurses do the leg work. So many things are going on that the doctors and patients take for granted. I'm impressed with how much the nurses know, and I look forward to being able to reach that status," he said.

His peers following more traditional male career paths may be laughing at Kyle now, but Kyle may have the last laugh. According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages of registered nurses were $62,450 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $51,640 and $76,570. The lowest ten percent earned less than $43,410, and the highest ten percent earned more than $92,240.

To find out ways to celebrate nurses and nursing students during National Nurses Week, visit nursingworld.org.

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