My Nurse InfluencersThe Relentless School Nurse
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The Relentless School Nurse: The ‘Wild West’ of School Years is Ending

By: By Robin Cogan

Being a school nurse during COVID has often felt like being in “The Wild West.” This illustration, created by artist Sofie Rasmussen, the daughter of Judy Doran, a school nurse from Maine, is the quintessential “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Sofie designed it in commemoration of School Nurses Day 2021 and it perfectly depicts our challenges.  This young adult artist has been home from her travels because of the pandemic and has had a front seat to what her mom has faced during this unforgettable school year. One of the biggest hurdles has been confusing messaging from the CDC, which Sofie skillfully included in her artwork.

Let’s be clear, attempting to keep students and staff safe during a global pandemic has been as difficult as staying atop a bucking bronco. School nurses have held on for dear life as the COVID bronco kicked up its heels. We are still here, maybe a bit bruised and battered, but most continue to get back in the saddle. Some school nurses have made important career decisions to retire, retire early, resign or not return next school year. I can’t blame them, in fact, I give them my support and appreciation for recognizing their needs and choosing to move on. They will be missed and their efforts did make a difference.

Maine and Delaware announced that EVERY school nurse is school nurse of the year 2021 in their respective states. Judy Doran shared the following letter that she sent to her school district nurses along with her daughter’s amazing illustration to celebrate her team. This is leadership. Judy’s letter rings true for all of us, so let’s soak in her words and take a break from the challenges that we have had and may continue to experience:

Congratulations! You are about to conclude 9+ months of human trials (following 6+ months of prep). The trials are AKA school in a pandemic. There was no blue print, no game book (you actually wrote the book as you went along), forgotten history (never a wise approach), a wholly dysfunctional political and social vibe. There was fascination and fear. There was a long history of school nurses too quietly rocking children’s health and then we roared. We interpreted science and  guidance, questioning and confirming at every step. We developed processes, protocols, how to do this, how to document that, when to do/say whatever, how to say it/scream it, to whomever.  When to stand firm. We taught constantly and repeatedly (and repetitively). We demonstrated that school was not magically a virus free place; that our blood, sweat, tears and smarts are what did the trick.

Congratulations School Nurses of the YEAR!!!!

I will look back on this year as the most challenging of my career and one I do not want to repeat. I’ll also look back with enormous pride. And a lot of smiles. I’m pretty sure nobody has told you this lately; there is no group of 6 anywhere on this planet who did a better job in this Pandemic/Pandemonium. I am certain of that. We stepped in, stepped up, gave each other mighty support and respect, latitude and peace when needed, cheer and beer when needed, humor, love, appreciation, consideration. Gratitude and admiration. There was no such thing as a dumb question asked. There were scary times and enormously frustrating times. There was a LOT of laughter. A few tears. A few days of no one in particular or all of us feeling they could not take ONE MORE MINUTE of it. You worked yourselves hard, didn’t take sick days, didn’t take personal days, showed up, dug in, went home, dug in at home, got up and came back to school to dig in again. We looked after each other. I am so proud of that and grateful for it, and honored to be a part of a group that did that so naturally.

Thanks for walking with me.

Love,  Judy

We don’t know what September will bring, but for now, we can look back at this unimaginable school year with pride for an impossible job not only well done, but executed with professionalism and excellence under extreme circumstances.  For those finishing 2020-2021 in the next week or so, enjoy some needed time off. Many of us are still going strong or at least attempting to through the end of June, and others well into the summer months. When you do have downtime, rest, reflect, and gear up for the 2021-2022 school year, it promises to be interesting.

Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN is a Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), currently in her 20th 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. Leave new

  • Susan M Martin
    May 28, 2021 10:37 am

    THAT PICTURE!!! I had to share it with my fellow building nurses because it was so on target. Thank you for sharing and thank you to the artist for perfectly capturing what we have all felt this year:-)


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