By Roz Kohls
School nurses have jobs so varied, sometimes it’s difficult to see how they could be in the same occupation. Kelly O’Fallon, LuAnne Linder, and Jolie Holland tell about what it’s like to be a school nurse in their respective school districts.
Dassel-Cokato School District
Kelly O’Fallon, public health nurse for the Dassel Cokato School District, said being a school nurse is more than fixing bumps and bruises and administering medication.
“The main function of the job is to help students achieve and maintain wellness so they can reach their education goals,” O’Fallon said.
As a result, O’Fallon spends a good chunk of her time teaching.
“I especially enjoy the elementary students. They can be so funny, and they aren’t even trying,” said O’Fallon, a registered nurse with a four-year degree from St. Scholastica of Duluth.
When O’Fallon was teaching first graders about dental health, she and the children discussed the effects of different food choices on teeth. She told them how sugary things like soda will attack teeth for 20 minutes after drinking it.
“One of the girls said, ‘My dad drinks lots of pop everyday. I am going to have to tell him about this so he stops drinking pop!’ It was really cute how the kids take the information and apply it to real life. I thought to myself, boy, her dad is really going to thank me for this,” said O’Fallon, a 1999 graduate of Dassel-Cokato High School.
This has been O’Fallon’s first year as a school nurse. Previously she worked at Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, and as a travel nurse in California and New York. School nursing has been an interesting contrast. Instead of reacting to sickness, she promotes health, O’Fallon said.
“It can be frustrating at times, because I am not directly in the education field and I don’t think everyone really understands what my job is about,” said O’Fallon, who lives in Cokato.
Sometimes, instead of taking their children to the doctor, parents will tell their children to ask O’Fallon to diagnose them. “We aren’t supposed to diagnose anything,” she said.
Lester Prairie School District
LuAnne Linder has been a school nurse in the Lester Prairie School District for five years. Usually, she sees elementary school children with the usual bumps, bruises, scrapes and swellings calling for an ice pack, she said.
This past school year, though, Linder had a remarkable second grade girl she worked with who has diabetes.
“It was just amazing,” Linder said.
Although she was so young, the second grader was unusually responsible about managing her condition. She gave herself injections right from the beginning, Linder said.
At first, her parents asked many questions about how the school staff would react in case the little girl’s blood sugar rose and fell too rapidly, the portions in the school lunches, and how much exercise the second grader would get during the day.
Linder also taught the school staff how to respond. Still she was amazed “how well she is handling it.”
Linder lives south of Dassel, right on the Meeker/McLeod county line. She grew up in the Twin Cities, and attended college at Northwestern, where she met Mark. He is now a financial service provider. Linder received her registered nurse degree from Willmar Community College and worked for 10 years as a nurse at Hutchinson Community Hospital, Linder said.
She grew tired of having to work weekends and holidays, so she contracted to work with McLeod County Public Health instead. It gave her more time to be with her family, especially during the summer.
The Linder children include adults, Hannah Rojas and Heidi; and Daniel, 18, and Michael, 16. The youngest children attend school at Dassel Cokato High School.
Linder spends most of her time as a school nurse with the elementary school in Lester Prairie.
“I like working with the kids, the day-to-day stuff,” she said.
Linder starts each of her two days a week in the school checking on notes from the school secretary for items that needed attention when she wasn’t there. There might be a notice about head lice, questions from parents about immunizations, or maybe a note that a student has broken his arm, she said.
Several of the students she monitors have asthma. Linder also teaches kindergarten and first grade students about nutrition and dental health.
All the sixth graders need an immunization before they can start seventh grade. Linder helps with that. She also does vision and hearing screenings at Lester Prairie schools.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted’s school nurse, Jolie Holland, said if people ever mention to her that school nursing is boring, she won’t be able to agree with them.
This past school year, her first in Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District, was very unusual, said Holland, a Buffalo native. She had two students who needed emergency appendectomies, she said.
In addition, on a school-sponsored trip to Hackensack, a father of one of the students had a heart attack. Holland was there, deep in the woods, with her daughter and her classmates. The man survived, but it took a nerve-wracking 35 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
Holland also was at Waverly Elementary School the day a construction worker died after falling from the roof.
Not everything that happened is negative, though. Holland told how a sixth grade boy from Mexico had brown-stained teeth from being exposed to tetracycline in utero.
Holland made arrangements with a friend who is a dentist to open his office on a Saturday and cap the boy’s teeth for free.
“I got to be dental assistant,” Holland said. She held the suction device in place, and comforted the boy while the procedure was done, she added.
“It turned out beautifully. He looks great,” Holland said.
Holland liked to pass him in the hallway at school, and flash him a big smile. Then he’d smile back with his newly white teeth, she said.
Holland received her bachelor of science degree in nursing from Bethel College, and a bachelor of arts degree from Concordia University of St. Paul and North Hennepin Community College.
Holland still lives in Buffalo and has two daughters, Raquel, 12, and Sirena, 15. In September, they will attend school in Buffalo, she said.
Holland moves from school building to school building throughout the week. On Monday, she is at the high school, and middle school, two half-days she is in the elementary schools, and another half-day at St. James Lutheran School in Howard Lake. Next year, the middle school will be in a separate building from the high school so her position will be even more varied.
This past year, all of the school district’s health records were put on computer, so it is much easier to track immunizations, student allergies and health concerns. The computer makes it easier for her to run reports and log student visits to the school nurse’s office. The records are much more secure, she said.
Holland’s 82-year-old mother, Evelyn, often comes to Howard Lake from Buffalo to be a resource for her, Holland said. Her mother also was a school nurse for 19 years in the Buffalo School District, she said.
One of her mother’s former students sent a letter to Holland about her mother. “I would almost bet you, yourself, took to nursing like a duck to water,” he said in the letter.
Holland also is a critical care nurse at the hospital in Buffalo, and teaches childbirth classes and domestic violence classes.