The young teacher gently pointed to the back of the student’s head so that the school nurse could see. She mouthed the words, “lice,” convinced the speck she had detected was a maggot.
Following a thorough examination, the nurse determined that the “maggot” was a specimen from the classroom sensory table, a grain of rice. The child went happily back to class. All in a day’s work for Rose Greene, RN from Poughkeepsie’s Hagan Elementary School.
Though this is a scenario that many of us think of when we consider the duties of a school nurse, the job, however, has grown much more complicated. Combine the amount of medical forms required for each child, the health issues faced by our children these days -- including life-threatening allergies – mixed with the wide variety of parental personalities, from the hovering parent to the forgetful one, a day in the life of a school nurse is far from routine.
Nurse Greene oversees the health of 420 students in grades K through five. She typically starts her day by greeting the students and spot-checks students who may have had a headache, sore ankle or other ailments the prior day or week. Then she will record the daily attendance, provide bathroom supervision to younger students, attend to approximately 30 children with health issues ranging from needing downtime, to asthma and diabetes, not to mention she administers first aid as well as daily and emergency medication.
If those duties were not enough to fill a day, Nurse Greene is also responsible for state-mandated vision and hearing screenings in nearly every grade, coordinating receipt of annual physical exam forms, completing immunization and body-mass-index and weight status surveys, and communicating with the health department regarding immunization and other health issues.
She sees her job as having three main functions: fixing “boo-boos,” making sure the child leaves her office feeling better and assisting parents when the next line of medical care may be required.
For Mitzi Kelder, RN, her days are “never uneventful and always fast and very busy.” Yet, sometimes it’s just the simple act of providing a bowl of cereal to a hungry student who skipped breakfast. The nurse at Kingston’s Chambers Elementary School with 375 students in grades K through five, says she sees more food allergies now, triggered by inhalation and touch, as well as ingestion, which requires precautionary measures like peanut-free lunch tables.
What parents say
Parents like Tara Speranza, Spackenkill PTA President, also attest to the invaluable job that school nurses do. Ms. Speranza states, “They do so much behind the scenes and are a great resource for families who have experienced tragedies such as death, serious illness, or a parent losing a job.”
Ninette Schnetzler, mother of a high-functioning seven-year-old autistic girl and a ten-year-old boy with ADHD at Nassau Elementary School, says that Sue Ambers, RN, doesn’t just handle health issues, including checking daily that a medical patch remains on her son throughout the day.
Nurse Ambers is always a ready outlet for both her children, her door’s always open, toys on her desk - even if it’s just for a needed break, to talk or relax for ten or twenty minutes. Nurse Ambers calls Ms. Schnetzler with updates at least every few days. No doubt the mainstreaming of Ms. Schnetzler’s children is due in no small part to the devoted care of Nurse Ambers.