I wanted to be a schoolteacher. From registered nurse to 3rd grade educator; seemed like a good move. What did my wife think?
“Honey, I think I want to go back to school.”
She pauses as she shuffles dishes from the sink to dishwasher. She looked up like she was studying a spider in the upper window seal above the kitchen sink, “Okay. What were you thinking about this time?” Though her mild and loving sarcasm was pick up upon, she is a wonderful wife and fully supportive with all my wild and crazy ideas.
“I think I want to be a schoolteacher.”
My wife, still looking upward, now lowered the dish she was washing the evening meal from into the sink, turned off the gently running water and left her hand on the faucet handle just a bit to gather her thoughts. Then she turned around. “Oh, okay. Maybe we can talk about that in a bit.”
I have the most supportive wife in the world. She’s been my best friend for the past 22 years and I knew she’ll “process” this out-of-nowhere signpost that just popped up in her life and will try to understand where this possible new road may take her.
“Okay, I’ll sit over here on the sofa until you’re ready.” Well, that “ready” didn’t come that evening. It didn’t even come that week.
She knows me well and after a few days, when I had planned to bring up the teaching thing again, she preempted my dinner-time subject and brought the matter up herself, “About that teaching thing…” I was all ears. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Years ago, in 1993, when I applied for college, I was not sure what I wanted to major in. I had narrowed it down to teaching younger folks in an elementary school or nursing older folks in a hospital. Are you asking why? Sure you are! Some folks say that these two professions both wildly unrelated and yet both are a calling. What does that mean? “A calling?” Before 1993, I was just tired of eating my way through life and wanted an occupation that would provide a regular paycheck and employed in an industry from which I was less-than-likely to be laid off during the course of my career. When I turned in my college application, the section where I was to declare my major, teaching had been scratched out 4 times and nursing 3 times with “nursing” written in for a 4th time above the last scratched-out “education” major. “I can always change it later if I wanted to,” I thought.
One lecture after another, I found my way to the other side of my pre-nursing curriculum. An acceptance letter arrived from one of the universities I applied to and I found myself in nursing school. Soon, clinicals started and then…one day…I was receiving a nursing pin and lined up with all the other nursing graduates while reciting the Nightingale Nursing Pledge to an auditorium of family and friends. The lights were low and our faces were illuminated by the glow from each of our single candles flickering from our ceramic Nightingale nursing lamps as we all, in unison, recited the Registered Nurse’s version of the “Hippocratic Oath.”
“I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”
How did I find myself here at this moment in time? What was I doing wearing this all-white uniform? There were 20 females, all wearing nursing hats (for real!). Like the ladies, we three guys were wearing white knee-high, nylons (for real!) per the nursing school’s dress code from semester’s past…way past…that prohibited cotton socks. We were all about to head out into the great beyond and stick people with sharp objects…and get away with it.
Ahhh, I digress…back to the conversation with my wife about becoming a schoolteacher and my wife’s question, “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
To be honest, I didn’t really know that was what I wanted. I am a nurse and didn’t really know if I even wanted to be that. A schoolteacher? What about teaching younger folks would make me happier than caring for older folks (I was a hospice nurse at the time we were “discussing” this midlife career change)?
So, I responded honestly, “I don’t know what I want.”
Apparently, she had been talking to the same people at the local university that I had been speaking to, “Are you sure you want to take a $25,000 cut in pay and borrow another $15-$30,000 in student loans to become a schoolteacher?” It was clear that she was supportive but wanted to remind me of the possible problems and these were huge problems. It’s not that teachers do not deserve to earn more than a nurse; the fact is: they just don’t.
“Are you sure you want to take a $25,000 cut in pay and borrow another $15-$30,000 in student loans to become a schoolteacher?”
I thought about this for a short bit then responded, “I’m not sure.”
She put her hand on my arm and knew first-hand how much I wanted a change. “It’s okay sweetie, let’s try the school thing first and make sure you like it before we jump in with both feet and realize the water is way too cold for us.” She’s never been one for metaphors, but this was a good one.
“How do I ‘try’ being a schoolteacher without a degree?”
She smiled and turned back to her meal, “The school district has a school nurse opening and you have an interview this Friday at 1pm.”
That Friday, I sat across from three seasoned school nurses and enjoyed my interview. It was almost like they wanted me to be a school nurse. They asked me questions that I had a few days to ponder over. Not that I knew what the questions were going to be; I just had time to think over this possible change in my career direction and what it meant. Would I like it? What would I do each day? What if I really didn’t like kids?
“Do you have any teaching experience?”
“Teaching experience?” I repeated the question slowly back in order to quickly fabricate an answer other than “no.” My response would have been a futile attempt at answering the question if anyone else other than real nurses were asking this question and receiving the answer, “Not as far as a group of children but teaching others about the aspects of their disease process or changes in their health status…yes. I have quite a bit of that kind of teaching.”
“You have children, right? As a father you teach children all the time.” One of the interviewers interjected.
“Well…sure!” I like how she both answered my question and liked the answer. The questions kept coming and the conversations continued. Until we found ourselves at the last question, “What is it that you think you will accomplish as a school nurse?”
Years ago, when I was in nursing school, one of our instructors got high on her soap box. “We are nurses. We need to teach people to stop smoking, doing drugs, overeating and being promiscuous. We need to teach people to care for themselves rather than indulging in a kaleidoscope of controversial behaviors that have a negative impact on their health. We are nurses and we have the power to make the world well simply by teaching.”
The classroom was dead silent as she waited on confirmation of her preaching with an “amen” or even just an affirmational nod from one or two of us nursing students. I know why my hand went up, but it doesn’t mean that I should have put it up, “Ms. Murphy, if we do all that teaching, and folks actually listen…well…isn’t that bad for business?”
She paused as if she wanted to back up time and dismiss my question before I even asked it. “What?” Her tone demonstrated her irritation. “…bad for business? What does that mean?”
Being new to nursing and hearing how passionate she was toward teaching people how to be healthy, I thought that it may be possible to live in a world with only fit, non-smoking, drug-avoiding celibates that only ate kale and lean chicken. What if all the hospitals shut down? What about the nursing homes when all the currently-sick old folks are not replaced by newer more-sick old folks? You and I both know that this will never happen. People will do what people do and people like to do things that are fun…hummm…and well…”fun things” may not always be safe or healthy “things.” We nurses do have a responsibility to “teach” people that doing the things that are “fun” will require a “painful payment” later in life. “Life” always demands “payment” in some form or fashion either now or later. However, most of the teaching and care involved in nursing revolves around symptom management and symptom teaching…the damage is already done. At this point in their lives, we nurses are providing “disease management” rather than “health management.” They have had the “fun” and is now well within the “payment” part of their lives. But, what if it were possible to teach someone good vs bad health behavior BEFORE they smoked the first cigarette, before they took the first drug, before they ate their first Takis chip? What if…? (See Below)
“What is it that you think you will accomplish as a school nurse?” Was my interviewer’s question. The room was quiet. I put my hands together, reclined slightly in my chair and thought for a second. The answer hit me like a hippo untwisting from a yoga stretch. Was it possible? Could I actually be the nurse that Ms. Murphy described almost 22 years ago to my class of nursing students? Could a nurse influence someone at the beginning of their life to avoid the behaviors that they will regret at the end of their life? Could I find a nursing job where I could work with well children and teach them to live a life of wellness and break patterns that will ultimately cause pain and suffering? Could I help break the health practices that were taught by those with the most influence in their little lives? Suddenly, I wanted to be school nurse more than anything.
Then, from my reclined position with my hand together, I sat upright and held out my hands almost in a plea, “Ladies, I have never been a school nurse, never taught any other children other than my own and the only pediatrics experience I have are those months during nursing school. But, the one thing I do know is how much pain and suffering I may could alleviate even for one other human being if they only had someone to teach them what society would have them learn otherwise: that living in the moment with disregard to tomorrow will never provide happiness in the long term.”
I didn’t think about the answer to this question before I started answering it. It was like the answer was there all along and was waiting on the question so it could come to life. As a hospice nurse, and as a nurse in general practice, I have been responsible for caring for many different people with many different disease processes. Now as a school nurse, I get to teach those who are testing the waters of life and share with them what hundreds of my patients have shared with me. I have heard the message and want to share it. Their messages were all unique, but the essence of their pleas were always the same:
“I wish I would have never started smoking…”
“I wish I would have never drank so much…”
“If wish I would have known ‘that’ before. Why didn’t any one tell me ‘this’ would happen?”
“If I would have done more of ‘this’ or ‘that’ and done less of ‘this’ or ‘that,’ I’d be better off for it.”
Every child coming into my office is looking for something. They may have a bump, bruise, or scratch that I can plainly see. Or they may have a “major headache” because they’ve only had 2 sips of water from the fountain today. Or maybe they have a “stomachache” because they know that their turn to read aloud in class is coming up and they fear not doing well. Every child has something they are experiencing when the go see the nurse and it’s my prayer that their need is fulfilled when they leave the nurse. Even my “fakers” get a peppermint when they Go See the Nurse.
Clarification: “Fun Things?” I would like to clarify my use of the phrase: “…doing the things that are “fun” will require a “painful payment” later in life.” I am not about to tell you that doing anything that gives pleasure is to be avoided at all cost. A beer, a cigarette, a complete Sara Lee frozen cake consumed while watching a single movie…I’ve “enjoyed” many things in my life. It’s experiencing the “fun things” in moderation that result in enjoying life. But, when the fun things become a life-style…that’s where we nurses come in and teach. Fun with moderation is my motto and even that will require payment at some point.
Now, here’s my more resume’-ish description:
I promote the health and well-being of school children by providing basic health services and first aid as well as serving as a liaison between the schools I nurse at, the children’s’ families, and community healthcare resources. I ensure a healthy school environment and better, educated decision-making by the students to life-practice challenges they will face during the transition into adulthood. The care provided to these adults-in-training promotes academic success and lifelong achievement. These cares include:
Basic healthcare to the students and staff
Perform health screenings such as dental and vision as well as others
Coordinate referrals to private healthcare providers
Developing plans for student care based on assessment, interventions, and identification of outcomes, and the evaluation of care
Serving as consultants with other school professionals, such as food service personnel, physical education teachers, and counselors
Providing health-related education to students and staff in both individual and group settings
Monitoring immunizations and managing communicable diseases
Assessing the school environment to reduce injuries and promote safety
Overseeing infection control measures
Overseeing medication administration, health care procedures, and the development of healthcare plans
Making decisions related to the delegation of healthcare tasks as directed by state laws and professional practice guidance
Providing health advice to school educational teams such as the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) team