Jennifer Olson is a School Nurse at Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, California. Sacred Heart Schools was founded in 1868 and has 615 students.
Where did you start your nursing career?
I started my nursing career in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It was beautifully rewarding, but intensely demanding. When I made the change to school nursing, I wrestled with doubts about this role and if this work would be enough. Had I traded quality time with my family for career suicide?
When did you first confront Type 1 diabetes?
My first year as a school nurse, I found myself deep in Type 1 diabetes with two boys. Did I know what I was doing? Absolutely not. Learning to juggle the needs of two T1D boys with all the other parts of this job was really hard. I cried a lot.
How did you approach it?
This is how I approached it: If my child needed nursing care at her school what would I want that care to look like? I wanted it to look like love, determination, knowledge, persistence, and to be as damn good as possible. This work is anything but insignificant. It is vital. It is necessary. It is deserved.
It sounds like more than a job?
My boys are amazing, and caring for them is more than just a job. That is what T1D does. It binds us together in the struggle to manage it. Good diabetes management is teamwork.
One of the reasons I left the hospital was to build relationships. It’s hard to say goodbye to a patient and never know the rest of his or her story. Here, I know the story. I’m privileged to be a part of it. These families have been dealing with the effects of T1D for longer than I have been a nurse. You can study all you want about diabetes, but if you don’t know your families, you will fail.
So you care for the T1D students as their own families would?
I’m their advocate and their number one cheerleader throughout the school day. I’ve learned how to truly carb count, meaning I know that bagel really has 60 grams of carbs, but for this guy it counts as 45 grams. I watch their trends. Every morning I look back at the previous 12 hours I missed while they were at home. Are they coming to school tired from a long night of highs and lows? Is he due for a set change? I ask for help. At the beginning, I called and texted my T1D parents all the time. I wanted to honour their experience and knowledge while building trust. This relationship is a key element to success. Please respect it, cherish it and grow it.
Are there many variables with diabetes?
There are so many variables. Everyone does it differently. Parents and I have worked together to come up with school plans, but there is not always a clear answer — a glucose tab? Two? Half a juice or a full juice? How much insulin is on board? Should I cover all of those carbs? Normal bolus? Combo bolus? I will do something one day and it will work beautifully. I will try it again another day and get a totally different result. Diabetes is frustrating! There will always be a bump in the road whether it be athletics, hormones, sickness. You have to be adaptable.
What are some ways you’ve adapted?
When I came into this position mid-year, my T1D students were coming to the health room two-three times per day at the bare minimum. As a first and third grader, they had to bring a buddy with them too. This added up to at least 20-30 minutes of missed class time each day. The next school year, we made a change and I went to them. Is it more work? Yes. Do I sweat all day long? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely. This may not be possible for all school nurses, but it was an accommodation I was willing and wanted to make because it’s important for these boys to move through their day with as little disruption as possible. I’ve become quite good at sneaking up on them in class.
Would you like to share a day in your life as a School Nurse?
How do you go about helping improve the health and wellbeing of students? What’s your biggest challenge? What support do you need to do a better job as a School Nurse?
At Student First Aid we recognise and celebrate the good work of School Nurses. Each month we interview a dedicated School Nurse.
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