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School Nurse Grey Gorilla

Find Your School Nurse Grey Gorilla

I am entering into my 22nd year as a nurse...and some years back (seemingly in a different life)...back in nursing school...we learned our nursing-trade basics from the best of the best of the best. These ladies were published in RN and Nursing magazines and would tell stories of the days where they would re-powder gloves and sharpen needles. That enameled bed pan that is now a planter on your desk was a tool of the trade back in those days. In honor of their nursing-school heritage, those nursing instructors required us nursing students to wear a uniform...with a dress code written back when only girls went to nursing school. The only thing they let us three “boys” get away with was not wearing the hats. Whew! Our high-starched, completely white uniform with our paper-sharp creases and no-cotton-socks-allowed feet in our white shoes made us look like we should have been dipping ice cream down at the local drug store. Those were the days. And now I see my alma mater allowing student nurses to wear scrubs. What is this world coming to?

“Oh, dang! I got a run in my hose.” - (Student) Nurse Kevin

Upon graduation, we were blessed with lots of advice from many of our instructors. One of the bits of advice that I received and have since shared with many, many nursing students that have “shadowed” me during many of my different genres of nursing (hospital, nursing home, work comp, hospice, and now school nurse) has been this: Find Your Grey Gorilla.

Let Me Explain

A grey gorilla, better known as a silverback, is a mature, adult male gorilla. A gorilla family consists of a dominant silverback male, the adult females, and the younger gorillas. The grey gorilla is usually calm and watchful over their troop and has experienced a lot of life...and life has been the best teacher. The grey gorilla has seen it all and knows when the jungle is calm and safe, and he knows when the jungle is about to become dangerous. He has seen the signs and knows the “language” of the jungle. The other gorillas in the troop go about their “duties” yet always keeping an eye on the grey gorilla, who sits there alert and on the watch for trouble. And, when danger is near, the grey gorilla responds and directs his troop to safety either by rallying them to safety or physically protecting them. He is the one with the in-the-trenches experience that no school or training could ever teach. He has survived this long by experiencing and enduring the tests of life.

When I was told to “find your grey gorilla,” what Ms. Murphy was telling me was to find a knowledgeable and sharing nurse willing to allow for me to learn from while in the nursing trenches. She encouraged me to find a nurse who has been-there-and-done-that. You are probably thinking of “that nurse” right now. You can see her (or his) face and, if you are not working with this “grey gorilla” nurse any longer, you are probably missing their support and guidance. The “grey gorilla” nurses are the ones that just simply know what to do and when to do it.

In each gorilla troop, there are other, non-dominant silverback gorillas. Though these younger silverback gorillas are not the alpha, they all have gained experience during their time in the jungle. I’ve been nursing for 21 years and yet there is one thing that I know wholeheartedly: there’s always someone who knows something I don’t. No, I ain’t just talking about the nurse with 22, 32, or even 42 years of experience. There are year-old nurses that I have learned from. There’s something that each and every one of us school nurses have experienced that a more “aged” nurse may not have come across yet. We all can learn something from everybody —even from non-nurses.

Not All Grey Gorillas Have to Be Nurses

If we even think for a moment that we school nurses can’t become better school nurses by listening to non-nurses — may they be teachers, office staff members, paras, or the custodial staff — we have missed the boat. Never, ever, EVER say, “I’m the nurse here” to any non-nurse fellow faculty member or to a parent. Because if you do, you had better be wearing clean shoes and have a washed foot. It is inevitable that you will be putting that foot in your mouth very soon.

Most everyone has had some experience with a healthcare issue; some of those issues are minor, and some have been quite serious. It was from a wife of a patient that I learned how to quad-cough a patient. It was a CNA who taught me how to easily change a suprapubic catheter. It was a principal who taught me how to make ice packs easily. Any school house and in any district in America — or rather, in the world — is full of mammas and daddies who have lots and lots of experience with children. They, too, have been-there-and-done-that. We school nurses know a lot about cancer, diabetes, ADHD, and concussions. But many of the non-medical faculty members and parents have lived it and are intimately familiar with it. We nurses know a little about a lot; they know a lot about that one ailment.

Traits of an Awesome Grey Gorilla School Nurse

Positive: You want to learn from someone who is upbeat and (seemingly) undiscouraged while she/he performs her/his nursing school nurse duties. Not that this school nurse is a push-over; she’ll/he’ll say “no” once in a while, yet remains a team player through and through.

Tolerance: Personally, I have challenges with this one. Nonetheless, tolerance of their fellow school nurses and his/her quirks (we all have them) is a must. The grey gorilla school nurse is willing and capable to accept all kinds of nurses/personalities.

Patience: The Grey Gorilla School Nurse maintains his/her calmness and focus when dealing with challenges. After all, that is the essence of school nursing. Every child who sees the school nurse has a challenge that needs to be solved. Even the “frequent flyers” need a little patience, just a little patience…Oh, dang...there’s that song again.

Insight: The Grey Gorilla School Nurse is able to assess situations and provide useful solutions and advice...and even to the degree of offering unsolicited advice when the situation warrants. She/he is able to assess, diagnose, plan, implement, and evaluate. And, I pity the fool who does not accept unsolicited advice from a fellow school nurse.

Commitment: Personally, I feel that commitment to your job and your craft is important. However, we school nurses work to live; we don’t live to work. However, like a farmer looks at his field, my school houses are my source of “financing” the life I want to live. And, without my school houses, I’d not be able to provide for my family. And my commitment to my job is parallel to my family (yet in a close second place). Nonetheless, the Grey Gorilla School Nurse possesses an earnest devotion to the his/her job of being a school nurse and the role of a school nurse mentor. Because the commitment to our profession shows commitment to our families as providers.

“I don’t live to work; I work to live.” - Nurse Kevin

So, here I am; about to finish up my 21st year and start my 22nd year as a nurse...about to finish up my 4th year as a school nurse and about to start my 5th. And time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future. Am I a grey gorilla school nurse? Truthfully, I don’t think I’ve earned that honorary title. Maybe a grey gorilla hospice nurse...maybe. But I still have so much still to learn to possess enough knowledge to be a grey gorilla school nurse. And that’s where y’all come in.

Thank you...each and every one of you readers of this blog. Thank you for your time and efforts in answering my questions, correcting me when I misspoke/typed information, encouraging me when I needed a lift, and just taking such good care of good ‘ol Nurse Kevin. All of us school nurses, each and every one of us, are in a “nursing troop” (though I’m the only one ugly enough to look like a gorilla). And, we watch out for each other and share our knowledge. Why? Well, that’s easy: For them young-uns that see us each and every day for this and that. These aren’t just little kids and teenagers; they are all adults-in-training. And one day they’ll be the nurses, and we’ll be the one needing them to be the grey gorillas with positivity, tolerance, patience, insight, and commitment.

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Nurse Kevin

Nurse Kevin
Nurse Kevin is a school nurse who takes care of school children in Southwestern Idaho. Nurse Kevin authors content for many different websites including,,,,,

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6 thoughts on “School Nurse Grey Gorilla

  1. I think you give alot of positive and useful information. If not pretty close to a Grey Gorilla!

  2. You’re my Grey Gorilla, Nurse Kevin. All the way from the Philippines. Ending my 2nd year being a school nurse in less than a month now. Your insights and posts serves to be an very useful guidance ever since. Thank you so much! 😉

    1. Nurse Claire…you are way too kind. Thanks for the comment; it’s very motivating. Thanks so much! Hope your band-aids stay sticky (in the right spots)!

  3. Thanks for all you do. I am in my third year as a school nurse, coming from ICU, you have taught me a lot!!! And I know I still have a lot to learn!!!! Teach on!!!!

    1. Hey Nurse Marrijane! I hope to have a doozie of an article out this week. I say “doozie” but what I mean is an atypical article that may get folks to thinking. Thanks so much for the motivation and the comment. We’ll keep on keeping on for folks like you!

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