The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 19, 2011

Times are changing

Nurse: Students today face more complex medical issues

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — Life as a school nurse isn’t what Joanie McIntyre pictured when she started the job.

“It isn’t Band-Aids and boo-boos,” McIntyre said. “It’s a lot more comprehensive than I imagined.”

Throughout her years as a school nurse, McIntyre has seen a lot of change, both in her duties and in the health of students.

“What I’ve seen in the last 16 years is that more children in our schools have complex medical issues,” McIntyre said. “When I started, we didn’t have children in our schools with diabetes.”

Because school nurses support the educational process, their jobs involve teaching children about healthy choices and seeing to their medical needs so they are able to learn.

When a child has diabetes, for example, more is involved than just making sure they get their insulin. Their glucose level has to be monitored throughout the day because if it is too high or low, they don’t feel or think well.

Another fairly common disease among students is asthma, McIntyre said.

“I’ve taken more than one child to the emergency room for breathing treatments,” McIntyre said.

She writes medical plans for children suffering from chronic diseases so teachers know when to call the nurse, when to call the parent and when to call 911.

“I want teachers to teach,” McIntyre said. “I don’t want them to deal with some of these scary medical issues. I’m so glad we can take care of these other issues so they can spend their time teaching. We work together for the academic well-being of the child. I make sure they are healthy and safe and they make sure they are learning.”

Students’ long-term health is another focal point for area school nurses, McIntyre said. In recent years, child health in Oklahoma has ranked low in comparison to other states.

“Over 30 percent of our school population right now is overweight,” McIntyre said. “That’s local. I can track it on my computer.”

Enid Public Schools has put together an “Eat Smart” committee to address that concern. The physical education department is working with students on what they can do to be more active.

The school system tries to steer families to the Sooner Care program when appropriate.

Nevertheless, school nurses sometimes are the only access to medical care for some students.

“There are so many children without a medical home,” McIntyre said.

She said children come to her and say, “I don’t feel well. My mom told me to come see you.”

National Association of School Nurses recommends one school nurse for every 750 students. EPS doesn’t have enough nurses to meet that guideline. On the other, McIntyre points out, some school districts don’t have nurses at all.