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The Relentless School Nurse: This is not sustainable

By: By Robin Cogan

The early weeks of the new school year have seen an escalation of COVID positive cases in students and staff. This follows the predictable incubation period of the virus. I have spoken to school nurses from across the country and we are beyond stressed, stretched, and feeling unsupported. The biggest frustration is that there is funding available to throw us a lifeline so we can actually do the work of school nursing and not function as the de facto health department. We have become a legion of contact tracers, with no bandwidth to do anything else.

While our dedication may seem admirable to some, it is crushing our workforce, leading many to make the difficult decision to resign or retire. We are not machines. I spoke at my district’s board meeting last month and I will be back again this month, along with my colleagues. We have more than 665 years of collective nursing experience and will be presenting data that documents how contact tracing is an all-consuming process. Data alone does not shed light on what is happening on the ground though. The rule of thumb in data sharing is: No Stories Without Data, No Data Without Stories. I will also read this plea for help from a seasoned school nurse:
“I could so use help in the office – a school health office aide to do the sick visits.  I am turning students away, triaging at the door.
Not what I want to do but with covid protocols and the plethora of phone calls this entails and running back and forth outside the building to talk to parents and give them covid letters and explanations, etc.
Then ( and I’m sure I’m not alone)  quarantined students returning too soon and not getting picked up – more phone calls.
I still haven’t connected with all my parents re: student’s medical needs. I’m beginning to worry that so much will not get done doing screenings sounds laughable.
I go home every day and wonder what I missed and hope it’s not anything important no need to respond just wanted to add my voice to the collective.” 
Advocacy is influencing, and hopefully our efforts to lobby for additional help will be respected and acted upon. We will continue to hold our board of education and administration accountable to support the health and safety of our school communities. Stay tuned, I will keep my readers updated to see how this story ends.

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.

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