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An open letter to my school nursing students

By: Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN

Teaching school nursing during COVID-19 has created challenges that forced me to pivot my course and take a 5-day intensive retreat-style experience and make it remote learning. It is a bit like being a virtual school nurse, hard, but doable.

My class opened this week in the midst of the most consequential time that I can remember in my almost 60 years of life.  Tonight we are meeting in person, remotely, but live, and as I sit here preparing our discussion, my heart is heavy with the news of this last week. Setting COVID-19 aside, as if the devastation of the loss of life, loss of jobs, loss of normalcy is not enough to deal with, we are sitting in the midst of a long-overdue national, actually international, protest against racism and inequities that have marred this country for 400 years.

On a positive note, our new cohort is the most diverse group I have had the honor of teaching in my 8 years at Rutgers. This is the future of school nursing, a workforce that resembles our school communities. I am encouraged by the multi-cultural composition of the 2020 cohort. I want them to know that I condemn racism and stand in solidarity with the protesters both on the street, on social media, and perhaps sitting in their homes due to COVID-19.

Nursing as a profession has been historically white, privileged, and many would argue intolerant. We have been known to eat our young, to thrive in a hierarchical structure that creates barriers for people of color, marginalized communities, and those who dare speak out against the status quo.  Ironically, we are still the most trusted profession and noted as being the most ethical year after year. But are we truly ethical if we do not speak out on behalf of those who are impacted by racist policies?

Nursing, we can do better, because we must.  If we are to flourish, we have to create spaces that are inclusive, welcoming, and denounce racism in all forms. Micro and macro aggressions cannot be tolerated. This is more than a moment, it is a reckoning for the meaning of our profession. How dare we care selectively.

So, to my new cohort of 2020, welcome, thank you for taking this ride of school nursing certification with me. My promise to you is that I will do my best to check my biases, to do the work that I need to do without burdening anyone else. As Glennon Doyle says, “we can do hard work.”

In the spirit of education, I am including a link to the Anti-Racist Resource Guide by Victoria Alexander, MEd, an anti-racist researcher who curated this collection to be shared.

Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN is a Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), currently in her 19th year as a New Jersey school nurse in the Camden City School District. She serves on several national boards including The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a gun violence prevention research non-profit organization and the National Board of Certification for School Nurses (NBCSN). Robin is the Legislative Chair for the New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA). She is proud to be a Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Fellow and past Program Mentor.

She has been recognized in her home state of New Jersey and nationally for her community-based initiative called “The Community Café: A Conversation That Matters.” Robin is the honored recipient of multiple awards for her work in school nursing and population health. These awards include 2019 National Association of School Nurses (NASN) President’s Award; 2018 NCSN School Nurse of the Year; 2017 Johnson & Johnson School Nurse of the Year; and the New Jersey Department of Health 2017 Population Health Hero Award. Robin serves as faculty in the School Nurse Certificate Program at Rutgers University-Camden School of Nursing, where she teaches the next generation of school nurses. She was presented the 2018 Rutgers University – Camden Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award for Part-time Faculty.

Robin writes a weekly blog called The Relentless School Nurse. You can also follow her on Twitter at @RobinCogan.

The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

1 Comment.

  • Piero Pantaleo
    June 18, 2020 6:10 am

    2020 INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF NURSES (WHO – World Health Organization, ICN – International Council of Nurses)


    Nurses must believe in themselves, they must believe in the highest values of the nursing profession and in their ability to develop relationships with citizens. They must remain united in order to grow together towards this single purpose.
    For everyone the watchword is and must be… union!!

    Nurses must learn to fully recognize their role and defend it, consistently! By being objective and demonstrating professional independence, they must learn to display their identity with pride. They must embody wisdom, righteousness, truth, courage and passion in everything they do. They must therefore transfer their professional know-how into daily life within the health services, where there are: women and men, patients and families, children and the elderly. All of whom deserve to be looked in the eyes and to remain respected as people!

    If the patient is not put back at the heart of care, through a person-centred approach, nurses, as well as any other health professionals, will fail to perform their basic and essential duties!

    Piero Pantaleo

    RN, Oncology Clinical and Palliative Care Nurse.
    Representative of Cittadinanzattiva, Milan (1997-2007)

Comments are closed.

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