Seated at her desk in the Lawrence High School nurse’s office, Lucille Winslow is the first to admit she never knows who is going to walk into the office and what the student’s health complaint may be.
It might be a dislocated shoulder, a broken bone, a head injury or an allergic reaction, Winslow said. She just knows that whatever it is, she has to assess the circumstances and decide what to do next.
“You can plan your day, but that gets thrown out the window if a student walks into the office with a health issue. As nurses, we respond to whatever is most emergent at the time,” Winslow said.
In certain respects, Winslow and the nurses in each school in the Lawrence Township Public School District, along with their counterparts nationwide, are among the unsung heroes in a school district.
That is why the National Association of School Nurses celebrates National School Nurse Week every year from May 6-12. During that week, one day is set aside as National School Nurse Day. This year that day was May 9.
Winslow, who has worked for the Lawrence Township Public School District for 12 years, came to school nursing late in her career. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in education and a school nursing certificate, all from The College of New Jersey.
She began her career as a floor nurse in a military hospital, while her husband was serving in the U.S. Army. She worked as a nurse in other hospitals and in administration before switching to school nursing more than a dozen years ago.
School nursing has changed in the past 20 years, Winslow said. Nurses have always dealt with first aid issues such as cuts and upset stomachs, but there have been “big changes,” mostly in the acuity, or seriousness, of students’ health issues, she said.
School nurses must deal with chronic illnesses such as childhood diabetes, as well as potentially life-threatening allergies and seizure disorders, Winslow said. Also, every student is seen by a school nurse once a year to record the child’s height, weight and blood pressure.
“A lot of times, students think the nurse is going to send them home (if they go the nurse’s office with a complaint), but we are really here to keep them healthy and ready to learn. We want to keep them in class,” she said.
A student may need to go to the nurse’s office because he or she can’t breathe, but what they need is some reassurance everything is alright, Winslow said. The student may be anxious and need to “de-stress” before returning to the classroom, she said.
That is why there is a special room in the Lawrence High School nurse’s office, the mindfulness room, where a student can go to calm down. Art students painted a mural on one wall and there is a rocking chair, a couch, fidget toys and a lava lamp that are all intended to help a student relax.
“Some students want to go home. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to. We can do that or we can refer the student to the guidance department. If you are not feeling well or you are too anxious, you don’t have the mindset to learn,” Winslow said.
For Winslow, it’s all in a day’s work, whether it is handling a medical emergency or helping a student to unwind. And being a nurse is all that Winslow had ever wanted to do, since she was 5 years old.
“My aunts were nurses. They were my role models. I wanted to go to nursing school right after high school, but my father convinced me to go to college and study nursing,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life. I enjoy being able to help people and to feel like I can make a difference. With my education and training as a nurse, I am hopeful I am making a difference.”