Have you hugged your school’s nurse? School Nurse Appreciation Day is Wednesday, May 8, this year. To shine a light on the vital role nurses play in Volusia County Schools, we spoke with Pamela Hopewell at Freedom Elementary. She’s one of the more than 90 nurses serving in schools across the district.

We asked Pamela to share a little about her work –the most challenging parts of her job and what she treasures most about her role.

Pamela, what is a typical day like for you?

Every school morning, I am up at 5:00 a.m. and have my coffee time, cat snuggle time and time to reflect on the prior day. I get to school between 7:20 and 7:30 a.m. to prepare for my day. Often, I encounter the unexpected tumbles of children rushing to get off the bus, tending to scraped knees and elbows, spontaneous nosebleeds or forgotten morning medications. I can see anywhere from 20 to 50+ students each day with a wide range of healthcare needs. My day ends around 2:30-3:00 p.m., barring any unforeseen last-minute clinical needs.

What part of your job do you like most?

I absolutely LOVE being a school nurse. We have the rare, but treasured, one-on-one time with students as we care for their individual needs. In the public-school systems across the country, we are caring for more and more children with serious clinical and behavioral needs. These needs require high-tech skills and a team approach. Many students require a “safe” person to go to when they are struggling, and it’s so nice to be a part of a caring group of educators and clinicians.

In your role as a school nurse, have you been involved in any emergencies?

I have been involved in emergencies with children where EMS needed to be activated while I kept the student calm. One child was brought to the clinic with excruciating pain in the cervical region, unable to move their neck. The student was immobilized, and a full assessment was performed while EMS was en route. Key clinical information was communicated to the EMS staff, and critical time was saved, allowing EMS to continue caring for and assessing the patient.  

Do you also deal with personal issues?  

With more than 780 students on campus, I have encountered many personal issues with students. Thankfully, as a school team, we work closely with one another and have open lines of communication between administration, school counselors, behavioral specialists and nurses. As a district, we work with “The Oopsie Project,” which provides students with a small, discreet, zippered bag containing personal hygiene products for menses. These bags contain pads and cleansing cloths. All supplies have been donated by our generous communities and are available for any student. In addition, I have deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, brushes, combs and extra clothing if needed. When identifying more serious concerns with any student, such as possible abuse, bruising or reported violence toward the student, as a mandatory reporter, I am required to report my findings to a higher authority while collaborating with administrators and the school counselor. 

How do you cultivate a level of trust with your students? 

Trust is based on honesty. If the procedure may hurt, like cleansing a scraped knee, it’s important to let them know that it may be a little uncomfortable and why it’s important to do. Students need to know you aren’t there to hurt them but to help them. It’s very important to create an environment conducive to privacy, too. When a student needs to have a personal discussion about their health, they need to know they can trust you. 

What's the most exhausting part of the job? 

As rewarding as it is exhausting, the sheer volume of students who need individualized care and the follow-up documentation for each student can be time-consuming at the end of the day. However, being able to leave at 2:30-3:00 p.m. when the students leave allows enough time to reenergize for the next day.

How do you interact with the parents?

I communicate in person or by phone with parents/guardians constantly throughout the day by calling when their child is in the clinic or notifying them that their child’s medication is running low. I try to put myself in the shoes of the parents, giving information that I would want to know about my own child. I do my best to create an environment of trust amongst our parents/guardians so they know that their child will be cared for at the highest level possible.    

Thank you, Pamela, for years of service. We appreciate you and all of the nurses who are a part of Volusia County Schools’ Health Services team.