School nursing started out as a practical solution for Beth Mattey: The mom of three liked the hours. Now, 27 years later, she says it was the perfect career choice—creative, independent and full of meaning.
“As Maya Angelou said, ‘People never forget how you made them feel,’” Mattey says. “That’s the connection that school nurses make.”
We asked Mattey what parents might be surprised to know about her job—and their kids.
1. Sadness is one of the most common illnesses she sees in students. “Kids are anxious and want to do well,” she says, noting a 2012 National Association of School Nurses report that the top five health conditions of U. S. children are mental health- related, issues that school nurses spend about a third of their time helping students cope with.
2. Every kid should carry a water bottle. Dehydration is often the cause of headaches, another common complaint among kids, Mattey says. Also a culprit? Lack of sleep.
3. School nurses need to know your secrets. In addition to any chronic conditions your student is coping with, update your school’s nurse on any big family news like an illness, death or divorce. Your instinct might be to keep such facts private, but the nurse can offer your child valuable support.
4. Your kids aren’t eating the lunch you pack. “I often ask teens what they had for lunch, and they say, ‘Chips.’ We need to help them understand the value of nutrition and to make good choices,” Mattey says.
5. A “mental health day” is not a stress solution. Allowing your anxious teen a day off won’t get to the root of the cause. “If a kid is too stressed to go school, find out why,” Mattey says. “Is she being bullied? Did she not do her homework?”
6. Teens need vaccines. Make sure yours is up to date on the Tdap or tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis; meningitis—one at age 11, the second at age 16; and the HPV (human papilloma virus).
7. A school nurse can be a teen’s— and parent’s—best friend. Mattey sees herself as supporting students, physically and emotionally. After all, she’s there day after day, year after year. “School nurses provide a safety net,” she says.