School nurses lean on each other to get by

School nurses' responsibilities have increased following the return to school during the pandemic.

Robbin Suprenant is a school nurse at ARHS and the nurse manager for the ARPS district and nurse Mary O’Brien works with her side by side at ARHS. School nurses always had a busy day before the pandemic, but now their responsibility has mushroomed to include many other tasks related to monitoring students’ health and keeping everyone safe.

 A typical day for Suprenant and O’Brien involves coming in to answer emails, greeting students who come in for medical help, administering meds that students take at school, handing out masks, and giving students COVID tests. 

According to Suprenant, it’s a busy and overwhelming job at times. “I don’t have free time, I am often interrupted during lunch,” she said. “Being a nurse means no time to relax, no time to sit, no time to walk, and very little time to have conversations with other students and teachers.” 

The district is currently hiring new nurses since some have left the district due to these stressors. 

Despite this newfound stress, before the pandemic Suprenant and O’Brien loved having time to build relationships with staff and students. “Before COVID, students and staff would stop by to say hello and I had time to have one on one conversations,” Suprenant said. 

But due to the changes the pandemic has caused, Suprenant said she and O’Brien don’t get to have the same relationships anymore. “One thing is that because all of our meetings have been virtual for safety reasons, now there are new teachers who I don’t even recognize,” she said.

Suprenant is looking forward to her life going “back to normal” in some ways. She is excited to regain her free time and enjoy a less stressful work and home life. 

Luckily for Suprenant, she has O’Brien to lean on, referring to her as her right-hand woman in the nurse’s office. Suprenant said O’Brien has helped her get through. “We always have a person in the other room to call if needed and an automatic friendly face,” she said. “Mary and I are like an old married couple! We even finish each other’s sentences.”

Though the pandemic has posed many challenges within their job, there have been some positives too. Both O’Brien and Suprenant have been able to further their technology knowledge during this last year. 

Not only are both nurses now tech smart but they also have noticed their skills in recognizing students in a new way. Due to masking, “I have a new ability to recognize students by their hair, posture, and body language,” said Suprenant. “I have even started to realize how different everyone’s eyes are.”

Despite the challenges they’ve faced, O’Brien and Suprenant are extremely grateful for their jobs and working around students and staff they love. 

Even though the pandemic has changed it, both are also grateful to still have a built in schedule. “I like knowing I have summer off. It’s like a staple in my reality,” said O’Brien. 

Suprenant agreed.  “I am excited for more free time and being able to enjoy some nice fresh air and long walks outside,” she said.