WINNSBORO — Though school days have a similar routine of bells ringing and classes changing, of lunch and recess time, no two school days are alike for a school nurse.
Fairfield Elementary School Nurse Ashlan Porter is one nurse taking care of over 600 students. She sees students in and out of her office all day long, beginning with administering medications in the morning and then again to hand out medications at lunchtime.
With children with health issues being mainstreamed and the rise of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes, her role is crucial to a safe learning environment. Food allergies, seizures, and issues from ADHD are other aspects that keep school nurses on their toes.
“Emergencies, broken bones, asthma attacks, seizures, allergic reactions … a school nurse has to be prepared for everything,” Porter said. “My ears are always listening for a child in trouble, if they are coughing or having trouble breathing.”
She said the principal and staff work well with her to care for the children and that part of a school nurse’s job involves training those people how to care for children with special health needs.
“Not only do we have good policies in place, but teachers can tell you if a child is faking being sick or if they really have been sick all day,” she said.
On school day afternoons there is recess and there are scrapes and potential strains or sprains from P.E. class. In the winter, she said that cold and flu season keeps a school nurse busy.
Porter and her colleagues call spring time “recess time,” because the main issues they deal with relate to playground injuries most of the time. Spring allergies make asthma more of an issue, too.
Working with parents
“We work a lot with parents because they know their children best,” she said.
The nurse makes sure parents have a school exclusion list of diseases and illnesses that they should keep children home from school with. They also encourage parents to take children to the doctor for regular checkups.
School nurses provide vision and hearing screenings, keep check on a child’s height and weight and help with immunizations. A few children have blood pressure that she monitors, too, depending on health circumstances.
The school nurses work closely with the health department, with Martin Primary Care with pediatrics practices in Winnsboro and with Fairfield County doctors.
Porter attended nursing school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and was a public health nurse two years before coming to Fairfield County. The youngest of five girls, she is a third generation nurse, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.
“I love being in the community and working with children and education,” she said. She considered teaching initially, but decided on nursing as a career, so this element blends in the best of both worlds for her.
“Sometimes we have 3- and 4-year-old children who are scared to come by because they are afraid of a shot, but we try to talk to them and coax them into telling us what might be wrong,” she said.
Go with your gut
She said school nursing really reminded her how important it is to go with her gut when assessing children’s health issues.
“You have to be quick to think on your feet, so I draw a lot on the assessment skills they taught us in nursing school,” she said. “Asthma in general is a challenge for me because I never had asthma or had a family member with it and each child who has asthma has it differently.”
She did school nurse training in Columbia to learn about medication documentation, field trip requirements and other needed information. There are health care plans for children with chronic illnesses and there is emergency action paperwork to fill out.
Amidst the paperwork and administrative tasks, the nurses focus on education as much as possible.
“We focus on education as much as possible,” she said, ”and on being proactive for health. CATCH programming, for example, starts at the school with students learning about healthy eating and exercise habits and then the program is exported to the community.”
Nurses enable student achievement
Nurses also are a major liaison to call and communicate with parents to make sure the children receive the best medical care possible while they are away at school and to help the parents learn ways to help their children while they are at home.
“The health of students affects academic achievement, so the school nurse is a key member of our academic team,” said Dr. Tammy Martin, principal of Fairfield Elementary School.
That importance recently was recognized by Gov. Nikki Haley’s proclamation of May 8 as School Nurses Day.
According to DHEC, more than 725,000 children attend South Carolina’s public schools. Thanks to medical and technological advances there are many children who have chronic health conditions or physical limitations that can, and do, learn in the same classrooms as other children.
For many children with chronic health conditions and physical challenges to learn in the same classrooms as other children thanks to the presence of their school nurses.
Contact Kevin Boozer at 635-4016 ext. 14 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @kevinboozer.