The job of a school nurse has become a complex operation

(DailyTribune.com) The traditional vision of the school nurse is of a kind soul offering Band-Aids and ice packs to a child after a tumble in gym class or a scuffle in the playground.

Yes, a school nurse — if a school or district even has one — does practice medicine along with numerous other duties like educating and overseeing hundreds — even thousands — of students regarding healthcare issues. Not to mention navigate lesson plans for what is usually several buildings, and communication among its parents, teachers, administrators and even local healthcare facilities.

Some hospitals will “work with schools in the area to promote a culture of wellness,” said Jill Yore, RN, manager of school health for Henry Ford Health Systems Macomb, in “a coordinated school health approach.”
They’ll do assessments for schools and districts when there’s a concern over student health such as rising obesity and diabetes cases, or bullying. HFHS-Macomb provides a review, suggests policies and changes, and helps coordinate plans to boost student health. So far, dozens of schools of partnered with HFHS-Macomb and many have sought them as a resource.

“We want to empower people to, number one, make healthier choices, and two, live healthier,” Yore said, adding that while school is mostly about learning, what does the body good also benefits the mind. Plus, it’s key to a healthier life in adulthood. “We see the work we do as infrastructure,” Yore said.

Rayleen Bradley and Susan Zacharski, both RNs, are two nurses who play a crucial role in the said infrastructure for their schools. Bradley has been a school nurse with L’Anse Creuse Public Schools since 1986. Zacharski has been with Pontiac Public Schools for 25 years.

Both now serve as their respective districts’ sole school nurse.

Zacharski spends a lot of time with direct student care — dealing with medically fragile or special needs students. She might maintain feeding tubes, monitor diabetic and asthmatic students and more.

As a school nurse for L’Anse Creuse Bradley does much of the same. Plus she’s an RN on staff at Henry Ford, and oversees care of some special cases, such as training teachers, secretaries and other staff with administering injections, dispensing medications, performing CPR and first aid, and more.

Zacharski does a lot of preventative work, too, and has even reached out into the business community to get eye exams or dental checkups for students in the district.

Besides a commitment to the schools, school nurses are committed to their students/patients, often times being a child’s only source to health care, said Zacharski.

Both nurses do inspections — looking for lice, checking oral health and anything that might be of concern. “We’ve turned into a big clinic,” Bradley said.

Nurses also serve as a lookout, Zacharski said, watching for signs of illness — “we’re great identifiers … (and) may be first to see emerging trends, signs and symptoms” — a nasty flu case, for example. Medications and needs change over the years, so nurses must stay current on that as well. Lately there have been more peanut allergies, for example; so the epi-pen has become an important life-saving tool.

By focusing on maintaining student health, a nurse helps “clear the way for learning,” Zacharski said.

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