Remember the school nurse? At the time, they were usually women, and especially when you were a little kid, she made everything seem better when you didn’t feel good.
In honor of National School Nurse Day, we spoke with Brenda L. Brooks, the district head nurse, school nurse-teacher, and coordinator of health services in the Hudson Falls Central School District in Hudson Falls, New York to find out more about what being a school nurse is like today.
What follows is an edited version of our Q&A.
As a school nurse, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?
We do just about everything. In a typical day, I’m coordinating sports physicals; I might instruct a first grader on hygiene, and then help a student with anxiety issues at the high school. School nursing is way more than band-aids and ice packs. We’re first responders to any sort of issue that happens on buses or outside school.
It’s also working with parents to coordinate medical care. For example, rashes. If a student comes in with a rash, it may need clearance from a doctor before we can get that student back to school. So we’re doing everything we can to get that student back in the classroom as quickly as possible. In all, it’s serving the whole student, and making sure students aren’t missing time from the classroom.
Why did you choose this field of nursing?
I’ve worked in several hospitals specializing in every department except OR/ER and mental health. I’ve also worked in a doctor’s office. When my kids came along, I realized that the part of nursing I liked the best was the teaching. So I went back to school and got my teaching degree and taught science for 15 years. But I felt like I wanted to make more of an impact in my district. When the head nurse job opened up, I jumped on it.
What are the biggest challenges of your job?
Resources are always a challenge—whether that’s staff or things for my students like lice kits, transportation to the doctor, clothing, toothbrushes, etc.
A large challenge for us is getting support from a student’s family. For example, if a student is prescribed an EpiPen, will their parents be able to afford it?
Going along with that, we face the challenge of the mental and emotional obstacles outside school. I have kids who want to be in school, but their parents have mental/emotional or physical issues that keep them from supporting their child. For example, I put in a NARCAN program in the school to get all our nurses and PE teachers trained to use the medication. I am working on district-wide strategies to address the impact of stress and traumatic events on the minds of our students.
What are the greatest rewards?
It’s a similar reward as when I was a teacher. It’s that moment when you’ve helped a student succeed. Now as a nurse, I’m helping their entire family succeed.
What would you say to someone considering this type of nursing work?
It’s demanding; it’s frustrating, and you’ll pull your hair out. But it’s so worth it. You make a HUGE impact. I tell my staff they’re the little stone thrown into the pond. You may not be able to see the waves far off, but you know you made an impact.
Is there anything else about being a school nurse that is important for people to know?
The most influential person in a student’s school life is their classroom teacher. But if kids are ill, worried about their parents’ health, are hungry, or don’t have clean clothes, they won’t be in that classroom. And many of those responsibilities fall on the school nurse. So we are serving many of the needs outside of class that are just as influential.
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