School nurses man­age more than medicine for stu­dents

Maryland Independent - - Front Page -

Na­tional School Nurse Day was May 11 and ac­cord­ing to Charles County Pub­lic Schools, no day is the same for nurses.

“You see dif­fer­ent things every day,” Jen­nifer Led­ford, who has been the school nurse at In­dian Head El­e­men­tary School for six years, said in the re­lease. “It’s al­ways an ad­ven­ture. There is al­ways some­thing go­ing on. You will never be bored as a school nurse.”

The school health pro­gram is a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween Charles County Pub­lic Schools and the Charles County Depart­ment of Health which al­lows for nurses in each school, the re­lease states. Nurses dole out main­te­nance med­i­ca­tions for ADHD, al­ler­gies and other is­sues. Schools are small so­ci­eties, any given one will have its share of asth­mat­ics, di­a­bet­ics, stu­dents with seizure dis­or­ders and those who have ana­phy­laxis, a se­ri­ous al­ler­gic re­ac­tion that is life-threat­en­ing. Add to that the oc­ca­sional headache, in­juries, stom­achaches, pink eye and colds and a nurse’s of­fice is rarely quiet.

D.W. Stephenson, a U.S. Air Force vet­eran, has worked in trauma and in­ten­sive care units of hos­pi­tals in Cal­i­for­nia, Texas and for the last 10 years at Doc­tors Com­mu­nity Hospi­tal in Lan­tham. Now at Mau­rice J. Mc­Donough High School, this is Stephenson’s first year as a school nurse. “I’m not an adren­a­line junkie,” he said about leav­ing the in­tense en­vi­ron­ment of a hospi­tal set­ting. “I like hav­ing the abil­ity to be able to take my mil­i­tary and nurs­ing train­ing and be able to take on what­ever comes through that door.” There are “fre­quent fly­ers” — nurse speak for pa­tients who al­ways seem to turn up at the nurse’s of­fice — but this year Mc­Donough’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has laid out firm rules about how a stu­dent can see Stephenson, all must have a pass from a teacher. There’s no “hang­ing out” in the of­fice to avoid class, the re­lease states.

Some days are more fast-paced than oth­ers. “I sent seven kids home to­day,” Stephenson said re­cently. “One had a 101-de­gree fever, three were vom­it­ing, three with pink eye.” School nurses are crit­i­cal in stop­ping or at least slow­ing the spread of ill­ness in a school, said Sandra Geier, the nurse at Gen­eral Small­wood Mid­dle School, who tended to more than 830 stu­dents in April. If one child in a class­room has the flu, chances are they will be spread­ing to their peers. “I let the teach­ers and build­ing ser­vice work­ers know — you may want to do some ex­tra clean­ing, wipe door han­dles.” Geier, a first-year school nurse in Mary­land, — she pre­vi­ously worked in up­state New York — said if she sees trends or if a lot of peo­ple in the school are com­ing down with some­thing, she’ll let her su­per­vi­sors at the health depart­ment know. “It feels like we’re here by our­selves, but [su­per­vi­sors] are only a phone call, text or email away,” she said.

The school nurse pro­gram was pi­loted dur­ing the 1996-97 school year at Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer El­e­men­tary School. The fol­low­ing year, 26 nurses cov­ered 31 school sites. By 2000, all schools and cen­ters in CCPS had a school nurse, said Karen Grace, Charles County School Health Pro­gram man­ager, in the re­lease.

De­pend­ing on the age group, school nurses will deal with dif­fer­ent is­sues. In el­e­men­tary school Led­ford said “ac­ci­dents” aren’t in­fre­quent. Churches and par­ents are known to do­nate new un­der­wear to the health room and ex­tra pants are stored in a stack of draw­ers in the nurse’s of­fice; some­times head lice will go around, but this year, “We’ve been pretty lucky,” Led­ford said, knock­ing on her wooden desk. In mid­dle school pu­berty hits and Geier of­ten talks with stu­dents, es­pe­cially girls, about how their bod­ies are chang­ing and what they can ex­pect. By high school, stu­dents are usu­ally re­spon­si­ble enough to drop by for their re­quired med­i­ca­tions and head back out to class, Stephenson said.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t emer­gen­cies. Stephenson has been called to class­rooms to at­tend to a sick per­son. Ear­lier this year, he had to call 911 for a stu­dent who was hav­ing a seizure. Geier stays af­ter­school for a while to make sure kids who are learn­ing to play sports or are in­volved in an­other ac­tiv­ity have ac­cess to their med­i­ca­tion if need be. Some of her six di­a­bet­ics can re­quire 13 glu­cose tests a day; giv­ing medicine to a kid on the verge of an asthma at­tack means they can go back to the field in­stead of hav­ing to call mom or paramedics.

Geier said that she is some­times the first con­tact for a fam­ily with a med­i­cal con­cern. “I have an open door pol­icy. Par­ents can come and talk to me,” she said. Geier fol­lows the teach­ings of leg­endary nurses Dorothea Dix, Florence Nightin­gale and Lillian Wald. With a back­ground in so­cial work, Geier be­lieves that nurses should at­tend not only to a per­son’s phys­i­cal well­be­ing, but their emo­tional health, as well. “It’s all in­ter­con­nected,” she said. “If you treat the whole per­son holis­ti­cally, you’ll have a bet­ter out­come.”

Be­ing a school nurse is never bor­ing. “I like work­ing with the kids, they al­ways have lit­tle sto­ries,” Led­ford said in the re­lease. “There’s never a dull mo­ment here.” Like every job, it has it’s up and downs. “This job can be very frus­trat­ing,” Stephenson said of nurs­ing. “And it can be very ful­fill­ing.” But stu­dents ap­pre­ci­ate school nurses. “If some­thing hap­pens at school, she’s al­ways there to help” said Sean Heck­man, an eighth grader at Small­wood, about Geier.


Faith Cham­bers, left, a se­nior at Mau­rice J. Mc­Donough High School, gets a blis­ter on her hand in­spected by school nurse D.W. Stephenson.

Gen­eral Small­wood Mid­dle School school nurse Sandra Geier, left, cleans a scar left be­hind af­ter eighth grader Sean Heck­man had stitches re­moved from his leg.

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