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School Nurse Gives Some Insight Into Her Job

Well, what better time to post my interview with Erin at Tales of a School Zoned Nurse than now, when everyone’s headed back to the classroom?

Erin is a school nurse in the “cash strapped state of California.”  Her position covers two elementary schools and a middle school – almost 2000 students!!  She has been blogging since last year and her blog has definitely become one of my favorites.

She says she was never too set on working in a hospital.  After nursing school, she worked at a couple of summer camps, which gave her the idea to look into being a school nurse. She was hired right away and “leapt in without a second thought.”  She is starting her second year in this position.

Erin’s daily schedule is quite varied: hearing and vision screenings, cleaning up playground accidents, making various referrals for a number of issues (such as dental and vision checks), scoliosis screening, making sure the school is in compliance with state mandates (e.g. immunization requirements), checking on diabetic children and dealing with whatever else arises during the course of her day.

She blogs a lot about the parents of her students and I am almost always blown away by her Scary Parent stories.  She says incompetent and neglectful parenting is by far the most frustrating part of her job.  (Read Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and the continuing saga of Exhibit C)

One of the highlights of Erin’s job is her ability to be a good role model to the kids.  She’s spent time in the classrooms and after-school programs talking about her job and as a result, the kids got to know her and look up to her.  “It feels good to be someone kids turn to when they need someone to talk to or confide in.  It’s satisfying when I’ve made a different to someone, like seeing a student with glasses after making a vision referral.”

Being rather new, Erin does have other experienced nurses she can go to if she has questions.  She is the only nurse at her 3 schools, but there are 10 other nurses spread throughout the district.  They stay in contact often by phone and email.  But other aspects of her job aren’t as supportive – the computers she has to use are “from the dinosaur era” and she carries her audiometer and vision charts with her because there aren’t enough to go around at the schools.

Her position is salaried on a teacher contract, so she works 7.25 hours per day.  The timing is left up to the nurse since they cover different sites on different schedules.  Depending on what school she’s going to that day, her schedule is generally 8-3:15 or 7:30-2:45.  She’s able to accomplish what she needs to do in those hours, but not everything she wants to do.  “I can finish the required health screenings and state mandated requirements, but there is never enough time in the day for the other stuff that I want to do:  get new shoes for the girl whose mom won’t take her in, diabetes teaching for my newly diagnosed diabetics, following up on referrals so kids can get the glasses they need.”

To prepare for her job, Erin became a certified school audiometrist (a 4 unit class).  If she decides to remain a school nurse, California requires a separate license, which requires more education.

And of course, my favorite question:  One of the biggest complaints given by hospital unit-based nurses is that they rarely have time to eat or go to the bathroom. Do you find that to be the case with your job as well?

“I don’t always get to eat when I want to, but there is time during the day – eventually – to do so. I’ve learned if I bring a hot lunch I’ll probably need to reheat it at least once during my meal, because I usually take lunch at my desk and am frequently interrupted by tetherball accidents.”  (How many nurses can say that??)

My son will be starting Kindergarten this year and one of my main concerns is his peanut allergy.   His preschool was peanut-free and this will be the first time that he’ll be out in the peanut-filled world for such a long period of time without my own constant vigilance.  So of course I wanted to get Erin’s take on the current allergy situation:

“Food allergies are definitely a big concern, and though I haven’t myself, I know many school nurses that have had food allergy related 911 calls. It’s a huge gap in our care: nurses are technically the only epipen trained staff (just starting this year other school staff can volunteer to become trained, but most I’ve talked with don’t want that responsibility), and when we have three school sites we obviously might not be at a school site when an incident occurs. I do my best to reduce any incidents by first calling the parents to find out exactly what kind of reaction they might have – sometimes parents claim allergies when their kid just doesn’t like the food.  [Ed:  ARRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!]  At the school, I notify the staff and call the student into my office so I get an idea of how well they understand their allergy. Then…. Then I just hope for the best. For parents, I really recommend talking directly with your child’s teacher and nurse – please! And bring in those Epipens!”

(Not only do I have 2 separate boxes of Epipens; one for the classroom and one for the office, I have a brand new bottle of Benadryl that I’ve already opened, taken all the plastic off and marked the appropriate dosage on the medicine cup.  I also have his photo taped to each bag of meds, which includes a copy of the doctor’s orders.)

And this is what Erin wants you to know about school nurses: “The job is what you make of it. I think there’s a reputation that school nurses have that is undeserved: we’re practically retired nurses working a boring job. There are certainly those nurses that do this job for the schedule, just like there are those hospital nurses that just do it for the money, but we’re not all like that. It just depends on how involved you are with your schools and kids; the more involved you are, the more you see there is to do, the more there is to keep you busier than you have time to be…but the more involved you are, the more rewarding it is, too, even if exhausting.”

Thank you, Erin, for giving us some insight about being a school nurse!

*This blog post was originally published at code blog - tales of a nurse*

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2 Responses to “School Nurse Gives Some Insight Into Her Job”

  1. Mary says:

    I am a SF Unified High School Nurse and am entering my 5th year at my job. Though i don’t have the same responsibilities that Erin has, I deal w/ very different issues working at a continuing ed high school, and another school for pregnant and parenting teens. So, lots of emotional, mental health concerns and plenty of reproductive health talk.. i.e. sex ed and drug, tobacco and alcohol education.
    Something that’s important for people (especially new School District Nurses in CA) to realize is that in order to maintain our jobs as district nurses, we are required by state law to go back to school. Even if we have our Bachelor’s or Masters degrees and/or PHN license, we have to take an additional year or two (depending on the program) of classes amounting to about 22-27 units. As a result of state school tuition hikes, the cost is approx $325-$450/unit. That ends up costing approximately us $10,000 which the school districts do NOT subsidize. So, just so you can keep your job, you need to go back to school for another year or two and pay $10,000. It doesn’t matter how great you are at your job and how much experience you’ve accrued during the 4 years you’ve been working, you still have to do this. There’s no raise after ward either.
    SO, just something for new school district nurses to think about….for me, that’s property tax money, college tuition money, money that i had no idea 4 yrs ago it would cost for me in order to hold onto my job…and it sure isn’t going to get any cheaper. It’s a really unfortunate and sad situation. I’m very committed to my work, but honestly….it’s an enormous financial commitment too, so i’m in a spot, as will many other new nurses be in a matter of time.

  2. DrRon says:

    Do have medical records on all students with chronic conditions that you can access easily? Do you carry an iPad with you so that you can access all records?

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