Trinity-Pawling alum Bruce Knickerbocker ’02 at Vassar Hospital

Bruce Knickerbocker lived in the Menzies’ dorm in Hastings his freshman year. That’s when their 7-year old son, Gil, came down with a heart infection and needed a transplant. “I remember Gil being inspired by a male nurse who took care of him and put him on the road to recovery. I decided I wanted to be that person who could offer hope to others, as a male nurse in a female-dominated field.”

“Being a nurse is so different from what people assume,” Bruce explains. “It’s not all bedpans and passing pills. Nursing involves highly technical skills and medical knowledge. And then of course, it’s providing the touch of compassion. In fact, it’s the same feeling of compassion and responsibility fostered among the brotherhood of Trinity-Pawling. We’re trained to look out for and take care of each other.”

Bruce earned his nursing degrees from Albany Memorial Hospital School of Nursing and from SUNY Delhi. He started as a registered nurse at Vassar Brothers Hospital in 2006 and then shifted into hospital administration for a number of years. However, he chose to return to nurse management in 2018. “I missed the hospital and working directly with patients and my colleagues. I didn’t want to spend my career in a corporate office.”

He now manages the night nursing staff at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York. “We oversee the entire hospital from 7 pm to 7 am. I work three 12-hour shifts each week which actually gives me the flexibility to be home with my wife, Kelly, and our three kids (Carter, 8; Brie, 6; and Cora, 1). This schedule provides great dad time.”

Bruce knows what it means to lead under pressure. His first day as Head Prefect was September 11, 2001, and he draws parallels between the deep anxiety of that fall to the current pandemic. “There was as much uncertainty and trauma then as we have now. As Head Prefect then and administrative leader now, my job is to support my team through emotionally draining and physically trying times. I just work for them.”

As nurse administrator, Bruce must “ask my friends and colleagues to be strong and selfless and keep going into the COVID units night after night. It’s like asking soldiers to go into the battlefield. Each person is taking enormous risks and making a huge sacrifice. No bathroom breaks, no food or drink for hours. They’ve got sores on their faces from the pressure of the masks. Numerous staff members have contracted the virus and are furloughed while they recover.”

Bruce expresses tremendous respect for his colleagues in the nursing force. “They take great pride in their role and responsibilities. The outpouring of support from the community as they celebrate nurses and medical professionals as heroes really uplifts us all, more than you might believe. The firemen parades, gifts of masks, meals delivered to the hospital staff – all of that provides a bright moment of joy, of solace. None of us do this work for public recognition. We’re simply driven by compassion and the will to do good.”

by Maria Buteux Reade