School nurse's day never stops
It’s a popular sentiment that the value of a schoolteacher is often overlooked. The same can be said about school nurses.
Current Arkansas law requires one nurse for every 750 students in a school district. With around 1,450 students enrolled in the Fountain Lake School District, Registered Nurse Amy Graves and the LPN she supervises are hard-pressed to achieve all of their daily tasks before the final bell rings.
This is Graves’ 12th year as a pediatric nurse. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Science and Nursing from Arkansas Tech University. She is going into her fifth contract year as a nurse at Fountain Lake this year and she also works in the inpatient unit at Arkansas Hospice.
“I started working at Arkansas Hospice because I had never really worked with adults a whole lot and I thought, ‘This will be fun,’ and it is. I love it. I’ve helped babies come into the world and now I’ve helped people leave the world, so I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. They’re just very rewarding jobs.
“At school I kind of hit the floor running most days. Usually there are already kids waiting on me who have just gotten off the bus, or their parents just dropped them off not feeling good, or they’ve already gotten hurt outside or are having difficulty breathing. We start off pretty quick already in the mornings,” she said.
A typical day for Graves begins with blood sugar checks at 9 a.m. for the children with diabetes and administering morning-time medication to those who take them. Things pick up around lunchtime with blood sugar checks, carb-counting, blood sugar corrections with insulin, and more medication administering.
Lunchtime recess usually brings in the children who suffer from asthma and are having trouble breathing. By 1 p.m., lunchtime meds are administered and Graves said things start to slow down around 2 p.m.
Every parent, teacher and nurse knows that students don’t schedule their emergencies or their sicknesses.
Graves said the nurses typically see around 100-120 students per day for first aid, not including the regularly scheduled visits.
“The kids that are coming to school are definitely sicker now than they used to be, so we’re accommodating that. You can come to school now and get everything you need and be a little on the higher end of acuity. You know, have more needs but still come to school and we’re going to get you what you need health care-wise, whereas before, those kids just had to stay home,” said Graves.
“I think school nursing is growing a lot as far as what we’re doing to take care of these kids, and there’s not as much as there should be, but there is more awareness than there used to be for kids’ health care needs in a school. We have quite a few health care needs in our district.”
This reduces the need for parents to leave work or home to pick up a sick child from school.
… I’ve helped babies come into the world and now I’ve helped people leave the world, so I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. They’re just very rewarding jobs.
For safety reasons, school nurses are not allowed to give students any over-the-counter medications without a doctor’s note and signed parent permission, Graves said.
“That’s mostly because a lot of people don’t realize that those drugs could interact with something that they already may be taking at home. To me, if you come in a whole lot needing Ibuprofen for headaches or something, your parent needs to take you to the doctor anyway because there’s something going on that needs to be checked out,” she added.
Though she isn’t allowed to treat those students with over-the-counter medication, Graves said she calls parents all the time to let them know what’s going on at school.
“We check to make sure they’re eating lunch, or are they sleeping good at night, or is there something else going on that we need to be aware of. If it happens at the same time of day, maybe they’re having a hard time in that class and they’re just wanting out of the class,” Graves said. “I’ll just talk to them and try to figure out what we can do, or, if they are having headaches, figure out what we can do to take care of it. If they’re just having a hard time in class and they need a pick-me-up, I pat them on the back and say, ‘I know you’re having a rough day, let’s see if we can hang in there.’ But I like to make sure that there’s nothing wrong first.”
Graves recalled some of her students who were newly diagnosed with diabetes and said it’s extremely important for her to make the students’ parents feel comfortable about leaving their children in her care. She takes the time to call the parents, especially the first day back to school after a diagnosis, to check in throughout the school day.
“At the end of the year parents will tell me, ‘We’re so glad you helped us with this.’ You really feel like you’re making a difference. It totally makes everything that doesn’t ever go right worth it. The kids are awesome and they teach me so much too,” she said.