Nurses are often told they are a lot like moms because they share many of the same “job” characteristics. Both are compassionate and empathetic and they also fix “boo boos” and soothe worries. When Amy Decker became a fist-time mom to a child with complex medical issues, she realized a lot of what she was already doing fit into a nurse’s job description. That’s when she decided to take the extra step and become one.
“When my daughter was born in 2007, I wanted to be better equipped to care for her,” Amy said. “I wanted to learn as much as I could about her condition and connect with others who were in various professions that could contribute to my knowledge.”
Going back to school in 2010 to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) made sense to Amy, who enrolled in a 2-year, weekend-only pilot program for LPNs that allowed her the flexibility to continue to work as a cosmetologist while she pursued her degree. She has future plans to earn her bachelor’s in nursing.
“When I applied for a position 7 years ago in school health services, I was looking for a ‘family friendly’ schedule working with children,” she said. “I like the 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule and the flexibility with holidays, school breaks and summers off.”
Today, Amy works as the school nurse for Crestwood High School in Mantua serving about 600 students in grades 9 through 12. Her job involves addressing first aid, emergency services and acute healthcare needs; administering medications; meeting the healthcare needs of students with chronic conditions; making referrals to appropriate specialists or community resources; and implementing disease prevention and wellness programs.
“The priority of my job is to take care of students who visit the clinic for various reasons,” she said. “These reasons include students who take daily medications, students with special health concerns such as diabetes, students who have been injured (sometimes at home, sometimes at school) and students who fall ill during the school day.”
Kellie Ristau, age 16, has been a diabetic since the age of 2. She comes to Amy’s office daily at lunch to verify she has taken her insulin.
“We go over her carb count and blood glucose number, and I watch her put those numbers into her monitor,” said Amy.
Although Kellie’s diabetes is well controlled, she is very active with marching band, soccer, track, dance team, ski team and softball, so it’s important for Amy to keep a close eye on her.
“I go find her again at 2:15 before she leaves school just to check in again,” said Amy.
Kellie says Amy reminds her of her own mom, who also happens to be a nurse.
“She’s got that mom quality and I know she just wants the best for everyone,” Kellie says.
In addition to clinic visits, Amy performs vision screenings on all freshmen and new students, audits immunization records to ensure students are compliant with state regulations, checks AED machines regularly to confirm they are in operating order, keeps track of clinic statistics, and contacts parents of students with emergency medications, such as epinephrine, glucagon, and albuterol, to make sure the student has the proper lifesaving medication available at school.
And, it’s not just students who Amy is charged with looking after.
“I also get called upon by staff to handle their various concerns or emergencies,” said Amy. “Anything from chest pain to blood pressure checks to lacerations.”
When a student with a migraine disorder stops in Amy’s office to say she feels a headache coming on, Amy calls the girl’s mom to ask her to either bring medication or take her home.
“I always refer to my files for phone numbers and contact information when calling a parent,” said Amy. “In this day and age of custody issues and legal guardianships, I need to make sure I am contacting the appropriate person responsible for the child.”
Amy says the biggest challenge of her job is helping students deal with the intense “grown up” situations they sometimes get themselves into and preparing them for life beyond graduation.
“Before Crestwood I worked in some larger urban districts where I had to help students find the resources they needed or find the words they needed to share something with their parents that they didn’t think their parents would be happy about,” said Amy.
Occasionally Amy is tasked with having those uncomfortable talks with students who may have body odor or lice and aren’t aware of it.
“If a teacher brings an issue to my attention I will talk to the student,” she said. “Sometimes it can be as simple as the student not having access to deodorant, soap, shampoo or even a washer and dryer. When I was in one of the bigger school districts I used to keep sample sizes of toiletries in my office for kids who needed them. Hunger was a big issue too, so we kept snacks like granola bars.”
Although she sees less of those kinds of issues at Crestwood, which is a smaller, rural district, her training and experience have taught her what to watch for when it comes to recognizing signs of child abuse, as well as suspected drug and alcohol use.
Amy must go through annual training on how to administer medications and review CPR and AED training. In the past year she counted about 2,450 visits to her clinic.
“I enjoy everything about my job,” she said. “These students inspire me every day. They are about to become adults and enter the ‘real world’ when they graduate. I am inspired to see them go make their own footprint on the world and I’m happy if I can make a difference for even one of those kids. That’s why I keep doing what I do.”