When it Comes to Supporting School Nurses, Robin Cogan is Relentless

When it Comes to Supporting School Nurses, Robin Cogan is Relentless

School nurses have been on the front lines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, administering COVID-19 testing, tracking the results and performing contact tracing, among other duties.

Underpaid, overworked and overextended, school nurses have been placed in an unsustainable position as “de facto” public health officials for the children under their care—and like actual, appointed public health officials, are frequently on the “frontlines” of community battles being waged over mask requirements, quarantining of infected children, and of course vaccination. However, if they start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, they have a place to vent, share anecdotes, and support one another, thanks to the efforts of The Relentless School Nurse … aka Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN, FAAN, the clinical coordinator of the Rutgers University–Camden school nurse program.

Cogan, a vocal advocate for school nurses, hosts a virtual support group for these nurses throughout the United States, which focuses on keeping students safe, as well as a variety of critical issues related to COVID-19.

“Being responsible for the health and safety of students and staff has weighed heavily on school nurses,” says Cogan. “It is not in our nature to receive. We are usually the ones giving. That is not a healthy stance; we must also be able to receive…” Describing the group to the New York Times in November, she explained, “It’s a safe space for school nurses to share their experiences and to kind of download and say: ‘This is hard. I’ve written my resignation letter 10 times. I’m about to turn it in — can somebody help talk me out of it, help me get through another day?’”

Since October 2020, Cogan has held weekly peer-to-peer sessions on Zoom, where participants offer solutions and empathize with each other about the demands of handling their standard and expanded duties.

In the hour-long sessions, school nurses around the country talk freely about stress, an untenable workload, and trying to keep up with the latest COVID-19 protocols and testing.

Cogan has noted repeatedly how the challenges that school nurses are facing this fall are compounded by the rising political battle over masks and vaccination requirements in schools.

It is Cogan who says school nurses are acting as the de facto health department. Like public health officials, school nurses have also been under siege since the pandemic arrived on US soil. Cogan recognized the need for a support group early in the 2020 school year, and created the virtual sessions with the Mental Health Association in New Jersey and the state Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, along with a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to offer nurses an opportunity to care for their mental health.

While Cogan is a facilitator of the group, she is also benefitting from the sessions. “We are sharing a collective traumatic experience,” says Cogan. “It’s encouraging to have this group to review the week and determine next steps or ways to cope that do not take me down a negative rabbit hole. I have learned from them to set strong guardrails and ask for help.”

“Front-line workers during the pandemic are heroes who need support. I applaud Robin Cogan for her work in caring for the mental well-being of school nurses,” says Rutgers‒Camden Chancellor Antonio D. Tillis.

A school nurse for 21 years, Cogan is a leading voice for school nurses and an advocate for children. Her blog, “The Relentless School Nurse,” shares school nurses’ stories from across the country.

Cogan was recently selected as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN), one of the highest honors that can be bestowed in the field.

Cogan is among 225 fellows of the class of 2021, joining a small group of school nurse leaders inducted into the academy. FAAN selection criteria include contributions to nursing and health care, reducing health disparities and inequalities and influencing health policies and health care delivery.