Lisa Way is the School Nurse at Melbourne High School, a selective-entry State Secondary School for boys in Years 9 to 12, located in South Yarra, Melbourne. The school has a strong academic reputation. Lisa oversees the health and wellbeing of 1,355 students.
How long have you been a School Nurse?
Nearly six years. I was looking to be a Student Wellbeing Coordinator, and then the job came up at Melbourne High School as their School Nurse. I didn’t get the role as the Wellbeing Coordinator because I’d never worked in a school before, but they decided to take me on as the School Nurse because I actually had teenagers of my own.
You obviously had nursing qualifications?
Yes, I’ve been a nurse for 21 years this year.
Why did you want to step away from clinical work?
I was a Clinical Educator with Victoria University before I stepped into secondary education, but I just wasn’t getting enough hours and my kids were getting school holidays when I was working, and vice versa. I thought I’ve got to try to do something where we can align our holidays!
What’s a typical day for you?
I start at 8 am and finish at 3.40 pm. I see about 15 boys a day, and I see staff as well. A lot of the time my office is a revolving door and the boys just come in for all sorts of things. At Melbourne High, I tend to wear two hats: the School Nurse’s hat and the Mum hat. I get a lot of boys just wanting to come and have a chat, sometimes they can’t talk to their parents about particular things, but they find they can talk to me.
I do a lot of first aid as you would obviously expect, but I do a lot of education as well. I don’t like to just put a band aid on or do a dressing or give Panadol without educating as well.
I’m not a counsellor but I do a bit of counselling, first aid education and a lot of administration. My administration time is mainly taken up with the new changes to anaphylaxis management, which came about in March this year. I’ve been spending a lot of time on getting our policy up to date, the storage of our EpiPens and things like that.
How do you incorporate education into the application of first aid?
If they’ve come in with a sprained ankle, I talk to them about managing it with RICE for instance: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. I talk to them about pain relief, what they can do at home, how long they’ll be off sport for, those sorts of things. I’ll always write down some information for them to take home so they can explain it to their parents.
How do you work with students and families with special needs?
We have some students here on the autism spectrum, and we have family meetings with the student and the family to work out the best way we can meet their needs at school. We develop individual learning plans or individual health plans for those students so that we can take those into the classroom and staff know how they can best meet their needs.
In what ways has your work influenced school health policy?
Where I’ve seen a need, I’ve been able to develop the policies myself. Take our Medication Administration policy. We were only able to administer Panadol, but I find that because our boys are in Years 9 to 12, most of them know what medication they’re after. Because the Department of Education and Training Victoria’s guidelines are very clear that you can only give Panadol, and with myself being a Division 1 nurse and my scope of practice is that I can give Schedule 2 and some Schedule 3 medications, I felt that there was a need to change that policy. So I worked with the department and others last year. I didn’t want to have open slather, but now we’ve got about eight very standard medications, for example, Pandadol, Nurofen, antihistamine, cold and flu, although nothing with codeine.
How does that help the students?
We can keep the boys functioning at school. That’s gone to the Education Committee, and a letter will go home to parents so they can sign off each medication they’re happy for me administer to their son as they come into the Health Centre.
Is that unique to your school?
I’ve spoken to other School Nurses, and they’re interested in seeing my policy once it’s fully approved. They haven’t had it at their school before, so this is something fairly new.
It took some months to work through all the logistics with the department but it was well and truly worthwhile, that’s for sure.
What is your most important role as School Nurse?
I feel I’m an advocate for the students. Being there for them, they know who I am, they know I’m available to them, they know I will go in to bat for them. I’ve got a relationship with the students, and they know I’m not here in a disciplinary role, so we certainly have a very different relationship, unlike a student and a teacher.
It’s a very relaxed environment in my office and the boys feel very comfortable coming in, there’s never any fear. They know they can be seen, and if they’ve done something stupid we make a joke out of it, so there’s that comfort level. When I say we make a joke, it’s just to lighten the mood! We have that rapport, and they always come back to thank me for what I’ve done, which is lovely.
So there’s no stigma about going to see the School Nurse?
Definitely not! They come to me for a bit of skin that’s peeled off their finger for a band aid! It’s hilarious really.
What are some unexpected insights you’ve gained?
Working in an academic school has been a challenge in itself. I’ve learnt a lot about anxiety and physical conditions.
The boys were suffering from a lot of headaches and tummy aches, and it turned out they were suffering from anxiety due to maths or Japanese or something like that. To be able to work out those sorts of things has been really good and they find it really useful that I’m able to pick those sorts of things up. We do breathing, a bit of meditation, we have some time out, and I also refer up to our Wellbeing Team for some counselling.
I learnt very quickly when I can’t go any further with a student. Sometimes they want me to continue with them, and I will try as much as I can because we have a relationship, there’s a connection, but I know in my professional capacity I’m not doing them as much good as I could so I always recommend that they go to the Wellbeing Team. In the end, they realise it’s the right decision. Often they’re a bit reluctant to make that next step. So I’m always the first port of call. They always come to me regardless of what it’s for and then we can make the referrals as to where they need to go.
What’s the best part of being a School Nurse?
It’s the boys, I absolutely love working with the boys. They’re so polite, they always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. They’re always so grateful, and they’re an absolute pleasure. I will never ever leave this job because I don’t want to leave my boys! I call them ‘my boys’ because they’re just such a huge part of my life, and I never have any issues in my job because they’re amazing kids, they really are.
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?
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