My Turn: Robert W. West, RN

Nurse Robert West took a turn off his career path and made a gratifying change to school nursing.

Like most of us who work in education, the beauty of my work is connecting with students. As an elementary school nurse, I have the pleasure of getting to know them, helping them work through challeng­ing times, supporting their growth, and watching them evolve to a more indepen­dent state of self-care if illness should arise.

Take the case of a second grader diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. The family is in shock, the student is scared of needles, and there are, of course, other fears and concerns. A year later, the student and family have evolved to a state of acceptance and they are working towards independence. A year after that, I watch them all engage with this life-changing challenge nearly independently. My role has shifted from one of constant support to one of support as needed.

I enjoy balancing the serious with the not-so-serious. Elementary school kids seem to really like the not-so-serious part and I like to share that side of my personality with them. And since I live in the area, I regularly see students and their families at restaurants, sporting events, and community activities. The connection between work and community is another unexpected perk of being a school nurse.

The pandemic changed my ability to connect with students just like it did for every other educator. My role shifted from daily care to educating and updating the administration and staff. I ensured that students with daily needs were cared for at home and I supported our administration and guidance offices as needed. As we approached the return to in-person learning, I coordinated with health services and our administration on the reopening plans by updating staff and parents about the virus, sharing how best to mitigate and prevent its spread, and fielding ques­tions. There was a lot of anxiety. Anxiety levels are improving, but some uncertainty remains, and for good reason as the virus evolves.

Until 2015, I was an RN working 8-, 12-, and sometimes 16-hour shifts. Then one day, as my wife and I were juggling to balance our work/life schedules, we discussed a career switch and when an opening came up for a school nurse near our home, I applied. I have fallen in love with this new iteration of my career—the students, their families, the school, the health services team, and the autonomy. Everyone in the school system is amazing; we’re all working together to make the lives of our students the best they can be. How could I not join in and feel that calling and passion?

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