“It is tough being the bearer of bad news on the other end of the phone” -School Nurse VF
If these last two years have taught us anything, it is that there are heroes walking among us and working tirelessly to keep our world spinning. Many of the folks that have been recognized and appreciated have been nurses, which is not only well deserved, but a long time coming. The nursing profession is competitive, fast-paced, emotionally taxing, innovative, and rewarding. It is a tree with many branches. Some nurses decide to specialize in gerontology, and spend their days assisting and caring for the elderly. Some become the cornerstones of operating rooms, and talk to their patients as they drift to sleep through anesthesia. But, what about school nurses? What do they do, and how has the pandemic impacted their calling?
I interviewed two nurses to help answer these questions. They will be referred to as School Nurse BS and School Nurse VF to maintain anonymity.
When it comes to how we keep schools running and maintain student wellness, the school nurse has been on the front lines since 1902. Rather than students being rejected from their classrooms, Miss Lina Rogers would provide the care they needed to maintain their academic careers. She would be the first school nurse, and the legacy only grew from there. Today, we rely on our nurses to care for our children, provide them with social-emotional support, and maintain public health. According to the CDC, more than 40% of school-aged children and adolescents have at least one chronic health condition, and require the skills and expertise of a school nurse to keep them healthy and happy. School nursing brings with it unique stress and expectations, so who are the nurses that pick this field?
School Nurse BS has been a nurse for 38 years, and School Nurse VF has been a nurse for 10. Both have unique qualifications, but both agree on where their inspiration lies: “I love working with kids.”
Working with kids, unfortunately, leads many to assume a school nurse’s job is simply handing out a band-aid or providing the oh-so magical ice pack to a bump. But as New York RN Mary Radens wrote in a letter to the Buffalo News only a few weeks ago, “It was the hardest position I ever held. My daily goal was keeping a school full of students and teachers safe. We are in solo practice. That allergic reaction is all on you. EpiPen or not?” The nurses I spoke to expressed similar experiences and feelings, with one of their lists of responsibilities being half a page long.
“Basically anything and everything gets sent to the nurse”, stated School Nurse VS. “I’ve assessed scabies, lice, bed bugs, and ringworm, changed diapers… tie shoelaces, help button pants, clean up after kids have accidents, change clothes if students spill anything on clothes or fall in puddles” and more. It is essential to remember that nursing staff in schools are often the only health professional in the building who is formally trained to respond to a medical crisis. In the case of extreme emergencies, weather events, violent crimes, and outbreaks, administrative staff will lean on the nurse(s) in their building to guide them. School Nurse BS identified these responsibilities and more, stating that nurses provide “education [to] students, staff and parents… attend meetings for students with 504s or IEPs… attend to [the] psychosocial needs of students… and chart on every student we see in office”. Of course, this is only about a tenth of the examples the nurses I interviewed provided, but even I was surprised by some of the work our school nurses are doing everyday. They truly help maintain the school and do so with love and soul.
But, how has a global pandemic affected the field of school nursing? According to School Nurse BS, “It has changed everything! No longer is school nursing Monday through Friday with weekends & holidays off.” Folks easily forget the work that must be done when the doors are closed and the classrooms are empty, and nurses are now dealing with double the workload and emotional stress with the same pay and support. In an eye opening New York Times article published on November 13th of this year, nurses across the country expressed extreme anxiety, depression, fatigue, fear, and lack of love for what used to be their favorite thing in the world. The Covid-19 Pandemic lurked in our schools from the start, and has served as the focal point of argument and tension between parents, staff, students, and school nurses. Many are forced to be the messengers of public health guidelines, test results, and quarantine notifications.
Some parents take the news well and are supportive. Some have been far from that and, according to School Nurse VF, she has fears of “parents becoming unhinged and lashing out. I’ve read stories of other districts where the school staff was being physically assaulted by parents for simply doing their jobs and I didn’t want that to happen in our district.” Nurse Anne Lebouef from Louisiana stated that parents ” just basically hate you” as you are enforcing masking, vaccination, and quarantine policy. Many have forgotten our school nurses do not come up with the guidelines they are forced to follow. As School Nurse BS reminded me, “we didn’t create COVID! We didn’t create the ‘new rules’ but we have to enforce them” Of course, we know these rules are in place to keep us safe, and we know these rules are following the science as it is known, but school nurses are still in the thick of criticism and hatred.
Despite this, the nurses I spoke to still love their jobs, still love the kids they care for, and still enjoy practicing medicine in such an independent manner. According to School Nurse VF, it is essential for nurses to “let it roll off [their] back” every time they clock in, and stay true to themselves. Many school nurses are struggling to love their job, but they all still adore the kids they care for and the quirks they all possess.
So, hug a school nurse today. Tell them you love them.
I’m pretty lucky. School Nurse BS is my nurse. She’s my mom. I love you, mom. I’m proud of you. The porcupine tape dispenser on your desk, coupled with your skills and nurse magic, makes the schools you’re in that much better.