During National Nurses Week in May, one day is set aside to celebrate the school nurses who help lead the charge for the health and wellness of students.
We asked three registered nurses (RN) working for Virginia Beach City Public Schools to share reflections about their work and describe a typical day in the school clinic, which, we learned, is anything but typical.
Sue Whiteman, Green Run High School
I started working as a nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital. I’m from Connecticut originally, and I went to school in Rhode Island. My husband was in the Navy; that’s what brought me here. I worked in Rhode Island, and then we came here and I worked at CHKD in the pediatric ICU. Then we moved to California. The Navy brings you around all over the place. I have four boys who all went through the Virginia Beach school system.
This is my sixth year as the nurse at Green Run, and I subbed in schools for seven years. I never dreamed that this is where I would be, to be honest. I love it. Just being with the kids, teenagers; they’re fun. We have a lot of fun. We laugh a lot. It’s part of the job, I think, nursing anywhere. You laugh or cry. That’s part of it.
Nursing is never the same two days in a row. You never know what’s going to come in the door. There are different aspects of nursing here. That’s why I enjoy it, too. A lot times, when you’re in the hospital setting or a clinic, you’re doing the same thing. This is kind of like clinic/triage. You never know what’s going to come your way. It’s all realms of care, including pysch; we do a little bit of that, too. We are able to bring many aspects of nursing to the school. We teach, learn, treat and medicate. Today’s students have a lot of things going on – a lot of pressure and some have family issues.
It brings me great joy to know that something I said or did helped someone understand their illness, know where to turn for resources, or just get through the day.
Wendi Gajewski, Kingston Elementary School
I’ve been a nurse for 26 years, in June, it will be. I worked here at Beach General, when it was Virginia Beach General and I primarily did ICU for adults.
This is my fourth year full-time. I love it here. I’m Nurse G. I’m Doctor G, at times. And some call me Miss Wendi. I answer to it all. The kids are what make my day. The little smiles after you ‘treat’ them. Some of these kids just need a little extra T.L.C. Sometimes they need, I’ll call it, ‘a brain break.’ I love that you can spend the five minutes with them and sometimes they’re just having a really bad day – maybe dad’s deployed or mom’s deployed or traveling.
I also like the fact that at this age you’re molding them and teaching them. You’re teaching them how to own responsibility for themselves. You’re teaching them to think, ‘When do I really need to come to the clinic?’ You see the kids grow up and become young adults; we’ll use that loosely at this age because they are still pretty young. But I think it’s neat to see how they grow up and see the neediness change and maturity slowly develop.
I love my day. It’s a different pace, but there are its challenges every day. You have a lot of health concerns in a school that keep you on your toes because you never know when something’s going to happen. I have over 5,000 visits a year. It makes the day go fast. It’s rewarding at the end of the day seeing these kids smile and to share the love and the care and the compassion.
It’s a wonderful job.
Kerri Hutchinson, Brandon Middle School
I’m pretty new to school nursing. I was in the Navy for 14 years. I worked military intelligence, so nothing to do with the nursing field. Nursing was always my goal. I just kind of took a little bit of a roundabout way.
I worked at CHKD for five years. I’ve been here at Brandon for two years. When I left the military, I thought I would never find that same kind of team family, and then I found it at the hospital. Leaving the hospital I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’ll definitely never find this again.’ But here, it’s the same way. I love that, even though we’re sort of tucked away in the clinic, we’re part of a team.
I love getting to know the kids, really know the kids. You really build a rapport. It’s not like in the hospital when you see them for a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months. You really get to know them. You know their siblings. You get to know their parents. They confide a lot in you. You get to know some of their struggles with peers here at school or at home.
You have to be loving and compassionate because these kids are going through things and nobody has any idea until, all of a sudden, it’s coming out here in the form of a headache…and so much more. That’s when you find out: ‘We’re moving,’ or ‘My parents are divorcing.’ It’s wonderful that we get to be there for them that way.
I wanted to do school nursing. I do love kids; obviously, that’s why I went into pediatrics. What I didn’t realize is that you don’t just nurse the kids. You nurse the staff. You nurse substitutes who come here. You nurse family members. That has been, for me personally, the biggest challenge. You are the only medical point of contact. In a hospital, if you have an issue, everyone’s trained – 50 gazillion people come. Here, it’s you. It’s Ms. Andrews and myself.
We’re a lot busier than most people would think. I think most people think we just kind of hand out Band-Aids and take temperatures.I felt that same way prior to coming here. I came in and was like, ‘Wow!’ Just like any other nursing job, you have more work to do in a day than you can complete in the hours that you’re here. You’re reporting information, conducting screenings and trying to be a resource. You have hundreds of brand new students and all you know is what’s been documented on them.
I’d want people to know that school nurses care; they love; they love the kids. They are truly doing it because they want to. I love it.