Navigating the Evolving Role of School Nursing, Together

Jan - Thu - 2024
January 25, 2024

Written by: Senior Program Officer Christine Marcos

Insights from a School Nurse Mentorship Program
The day-to-day responsibilities of a school nurse extend far beyond managing headaches, upset stomachs, and scrapes. Although there is so much to know and learn when it comes to properly caring for young people in a school-based setting, many school nurses navigate the nuances of this role on their own. Often the only medical professional in their school building, colleagues and on-the-job learning can be hard to come by for a school nurse.

A Northeastern PA-based School Nurse Mentorship Program being piloted by Penn State PRO Wellness with support from Moses Taylor Foundation aims to change that reality. The program, launched in the fall of 2023, brings seasoned school nurses together with participants who are new to the profession.

In late 2023, Jodi Kresse and Mary Ann Chindemi — both graduates of Marywood University and Registered Nurses with Certified School Nurse (CSN) credentials — signed up for this unique pilot. While they’ve both attained the knowledge required of CSNs, they’re at opposite ends of the years-of-experience spectrum and physically separated by a 60-minute drive. But, they’ve found this mentorship pilot to be the proverbial glue linking them together for shared, experiential learning and camaraderie.

Two decades ago, Mary Ann Chindemi, CSN with Valley View School District, dove into her school nursing role without any structured mentorship. She learned about the ins and outs of school nursing mostly on her own and understands firsthand just how challenging going it alone can be. That experience, coupled with her genuine love for children, lifting others, and the profession of nursing spurred her to become a mentor. Mary Ann is energized by interactions with her mentee, Jodi, a school nurse in her third year caring for juniors and seniors in the Delaware Valley School District.

As Jodi’s mentor, Mary Ann uses her nearly 20 years of lived school nursing experience to guide collaborative conversations. She continuously shares her knowledge to help Jodi build a strong foundation for professional success and to gain confidence. 

"Unlike teachers, school nurses often come from diverse backgrounds, having worked in hospitals and different health settings before stepping into the educational realm," Mary Ann explains. She stresses the importance of mentorship for school nurses and laughs a little when she describes her own professional journey as “baptism by fire.” 

For Jodi, mentorship is about having a “lifeline” to navigate the day-to-day challenges that come with the territory. Jodi's commitment to her alma mater and the Delaware Valley community is reflected in her service to students 180 days a year. She highlights the importance of treating each child individually, recognizing that their well-being extends beyond just physical health and also acknowledging that she doesn’t have all the answers. Mary Ann’s mentorship, support, and availability to answer Jodi’s calls, texts, and emails have been invaluable.

Although Mary Ann had logged significant patient care experience in home health before becoming a school nurse, the interconnected educational components were foreign to her. She cites her initial lack of exposure to the intricacies of special education, 504 Plans, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and medication management. At the start of her career, Mary Ann informally tapped into early guidance from a fellow elementary school nurse at Valley View, and, now as a mentor herself, she’s especially eager to pass along her knowledge to the next generation of school nurses.

Being a school nurse, Mary Ann insists, demands an innate hunger for constant learning paired with mental resilience. Beyond medical care, school nurses provide emotional support and coordinate care. Sometimes school nurses advocate for students; sometimes they advocate for themselves, especially when one nurse can shoulder the responsibility for up to 1,500 students, per current Pennsylvania state guidelines. 

Mary Ann recounts a pivotal moment when her diligence in communication and care for one student averted a potential health crisis. "The seamless coordination between the school nurse, a concerned mother, a timely doctor's visit, and a subsequent medical procedure underscored the multifaceted nature of this job," she notes. The situation resonated with administrators who recognized that beyond the visible aspects, the school nurse’s role often extends after-hours and into weekends, especially when it counts the most. A resulting budget approval included funding that allowed for the recruiting and hiring of another school nurse at Valley View in 2023.

Mary Ann has been a longtime member of professional organizations like the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners and the National Association of School Nurses. While she mentions using both groups’ essential resources for professional development and growth, learning new ways to serve the evolving student population, and networking to build relationships with other school nurses, she notes the necessity of one-on-one mentorship.

Jodi stays busy raising her two young children and echoes the sentiment of “family” within the school community. And — through this mentorship program developed to create supportive spaces for sharing insights and learning — Jodi has found a natural extension of her professional family in Mary Ann, noting, “I can contact her at any time, and she always gives me such valuable advice.” 

As Jodi aptly puts it, "If someone were on the fence about this program, I’d tell them, absolutely, just go for it. It’s such a great resource. There's nothing to lose, and it will only help you and kiddos in the long run."

Jodi and Mary Ann paint a vivid picture of the multifaceted world of school nursing. Mentorship, advocacy, and a deep commitment to the well-being of students — and each other — can pave a path to success. And now, as part of the School Nurse Mentorship Program, neither need to walk alone.

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