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The Relentless School Nurse: Believe in the Difference You Make!

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By: Robin Cogan

Did I ever tell you that I LOVE snail mail, especially handwritten notes sent through the mail? The other day I sorted through the mail and found three cards! One was from Mom’s Demand Action thanking me for speaking at a recent rally. One was from Jeanne Kiefner, a school nursing treasure who will be our forever “Head Nurse,” thanking me for spending time together during our recent NASN conference. The third card, pictured above, was from Christa Varga, a school nurse who is one of the most generous and thoughtful colleagues I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

“Hold onto the realness of your voice. Believe in the difference you make.” I will hold onto this message as a catalyst to keep moving forward. There have been many times in recent months that I doubted my ability and questioned whether my blog was making a difference. I want to publicly thank the lovely writers of these snail mail messages and the many school nurses who write me private messages. Your words lift my spirits and give me the fuel to keep plowing forward, even if I do not know where the road will lead.

We are moving into another challenging year friends, the fourth one impacted by COVID. The message of believing in the difference we make is urgently needed if we are to face what is coming in 2022-2023. Summer is for reviving our spirits, recharging our depleted reserve, and reimagining school nursing. We are the Chief Wellbeing Officers in our own school health offices. But that wellbeing must also include ourselves. It is not selfish to prioritize our own well-being, in fact, it is the only way we will be able to manage the next school year.

Claiming to be self-less does not move our profession forward. Maybe, just maybe, we as school nurses have an unhealthy relationship with setting boundaries. We often share that we don’t take time for lunch or barely have a chance to take a breath in between the endless needs in our schools. We know that COVID needs have added exponentially to our workload. But maybe it’s because our bigger issue is not setting boundaries about needing more help or asking for compensation for the work we do outside of the school day.

I will be thinking deeply about setting boundaries. Transforming school nursing needs to include setting healthy boundaries within our own health offices. Our well-being is not negotiable, it must be the highest priority! Soon I will share the boundaries I will be setting this coming school year. I invite the readers of this blog to think about setting clear boundaries with me. Please share them by commenting on this blog post. We need a group effort to transform school nursing…remember transformation is possible!

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.

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